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VOL. I. 





MAR 31 1966 

^^^SlTY OF T< , 



Biographical Notice op William von Humboldt, 

Introduction by the Editress, 

To Baron ton Humboldt, October 18, 1814, 

Letter I. Vienna, Nov. 3, 1814, 23 

At Vienna (luring the Sitting of Congress. 

Letter II. Vienna, Dec. 18, 1814, 28 

At Vienna during tliR Sitting of Congress. 

Letter III. Burgomer, April 1822, 31 

Recalling to remembrance. 

Letter IV. April 1822, 32 

Renewed calling to remembrance. 

Letter V. Burgomer, May 3, 1822, 33 

Commencement of the Correspondence. 
Letter VI. Burgbrner, end of May 1822, .... 35 

Kind and friendly sentiments. 
Letter VII. Burgomer, 1822, 38 

A wish — Objection. 

Letter VIII. Burgomer, 1822, 40 

Reply to the Objection. First specimen. Man the most important object 
to Man. 

Letter IX. Tegel, July 10, 1822, 45 

Tegel. Predilection for Solitude, and its value. Views on different sub- 
jects. Detached thoughts. Permission to keep Letters. Characteristic 
of himself. Detached thoughts. 

Letter X. Burgorner, July 1822, 50 

Reading resumed. Treating men according to their characters. Repeated 
approbation of the love of Solitude. Detached thoughts. 

page xi 




Letter XI. Berlin, Dec. 2, 1822, .... page 54 

Account of his Family. 

Letter XII. Berlin, Dec. 27, 1822, 59 

Estimation of time sentiments, and promise of unchangeable sympathy. 
His own the life of a Scholar. Studies. Division of time. 

Letter XIII. Berlin, Feb. 14, 1823, 63 

Complaint of silence. Alexander von Humboldt's visit, and return to 

Letter XIV. Berlin, March 14, 1823, 64 

Gift to console and elevate. Sympathy in an annoyance. 
Letter XV. Berlin, March 30, 1823, ..... 68 

Rebuke: mild, gentle, kind, and full of affection. 

Letter XVI. Berlin, April 12, 1823, 73 

Pleasure at good news. 

Letter XVII. Berlin, April 25, 1823, . . • . 74 

Aversion to a Town life. Pleasure in the free air and in Nature. Divi- 
sions of Life: Youth, Maturity, Old Age. Contemplation of the Hea- 
vens. The nature of Spirits. The World of Spirits. Elevating con- 

Letter XVIIL Tegel, May 15, 1823, 79 

Spiritual power of isolating one's self in the midst of JIanldnd, and living 
at the same time in quite different Ideas. Confidential references to 
his retirement from the Jlinistry. Acknowledgment of the rare 
happiness of enjoying perfect freedom in approaching old age. 

Letter XIX. Tegel, May 26, 1823, 83 

Whitsuntide: Spiritual and earthly signification. Sorrow, charitable 
toleration, and forbearance. Sympathy for Women. More demands 
upon Men. Detached thoughts. Friendship ivith higher natures. 

Letter XX. Ottmachau, July 12, 1823, .... 88 

Ottmachau. Estates in Silesia. Happiness. Aspiration. Judgment of 


Letter XXI. August 11, 1823, 91 

rtetum to Tegel. 

Letter XXII. Tegel, Sept. 10, 1823, 94 

An extraordinary story of an Apparition as yet unexplained. Dohm and 
his wife. 

Letter XXIII. Tegel, Sept. 28, 1823, 100 

Answer to advice requested. A Petition. 

Letter XXIV. Berlin, Oct. 18, 1823, .... 102 

Peculiar mode of view. Remarks upon biographical communications. 


Lbttek XXV. Berlin, Nov. 3, 1823, .... page 105 

Subject continued. 
Letter XXVI. Burgomer, Nov. 29, 1823, .... 106 

Subject continued. 
Letter XXVII. Berlin, Jan. 22, 1824, .... 110 

Congratulations upon the New Year. Friendly rebuke. Disapprobation. 
Correction. Proposition respecting biographical communications. 

Letter XXVIII 114 

Explanation of some passages in the Scriptures. 

Letter XXIX 117 

Subject continued. 
Letter XXX. Berlin, March 12, 1824, .... 121 

Caution respecting anxiety. Eeturn of Spring. 

Letter XXXI. April 1824, 124 

Higher blessing. Happiness. Consideration for the Editress. 

Letter XXXII. May, 126 

Baum, the country seat of William Count of Lippe-Biickeburg. Images 
of fancy, or mental images in their influence upon the inner life. 

Letter XXXIII. Tegel, June 15, 1824, .... 130 

Respect for an energetic Life of Labour. Annoyance of unimportant 


Letter XXXIV. Herrnstadt, July 9, 1824, . . .133 

A letter upon the journey. Panegyric \ipon old age, which, alas ! as- 
sumed quite a different aspect than that anticipated. View of Life. 

Letter XXXV. Tegel, Sept. 12, 1824, 139 

Return to Tegel : description. Great pleasure in the beauty of the trees. 
Trees a symbol of aspiration. Studies. Beautiful transition from the 
study of Antiquities to that of the Bible. Reverential criticism of the 
writings of both the Old and New Testaments. 

Letter XXXVI. Burgorner, Nov. 13, 1824, . . .144 

SjTupathy with both the inward and outward life. Parents and children. 
Praise and blame. Detached thoughts. 

Letter XXXVII. Berlin, December 1824, . . . .151 
Conclusion of the year. Promises of unchangeable friendship. 

Letter XXXVIII. Berlin, Jan. 31, 1825, .... 153 
Illness. Composure and dignity. Time : its great importance. Pleasure 
in perseverance and industry. 

Letter XXXIX. Berlin, Feb. 8, 1825, 157 

Obscure passages. 


Letter XL. Berlin, Feb. 12, 1825, .... page 159 
Peculiar mental tendency. Studies. Biography. 

Letter XLL Berlin, March 8, 1825, 162 

Equality of age. Friendship and Love. 

Letter XLIL Berlin, March 22, 1825, . . . .165 

Pleasure in Nature. Division of time. 

Letter XLIIL Berlin, April 6, 1825, 169 

Upon Biogi-aphy. Recollections of the years 1788, 89, 90, and 91. 

Letter XLIV. Tegel, May 1, 1825, 173 

Subject continued. Campe. Journey to Paris, into Switzerland, &c 
Passionate desire to know interesting men more Intimately. Emo- 
tion at the awakening of Nature. 

Letter XLV. Tegel, May 15, 1825, 176 

Life in Ideas, the richest and the best. 

Letter XLVL Berlin, May 21, 1825, 178 

Whitstmtide. Value of Festivals. Detached thoughts. 

Letter XLVII. Tegel, July 16, 1825, . ... 182 

Clear view of rare circumstances. Wish to remove misunderstandings. 
To be sufBcieut for one's self: hovr far this was his meaning. 

Letter XLVIIL Burgorncr, Aug. 18, 1825, . . .187 

Life in the Pro\'iiices. Pleasure in a simple life. Desire of investigating 
deeply : beneficial influence of this inclination. Explanation. Tran- 
sition from this world of Ideas to a higher life. Renewed assurance 
of sympathy. Consequence. Self-reflection. 

Letter XLIX. Burgorner, Sept. 6, 1825, .... 193 

State of health. Two jurisdictions to which man Is subject, — that of De- 
pendence and that of Freedom. Schiller. Corporeal sufferings. 

Letter L. Burgorner, Sept. 26, 1825, 197 

Encouragement. Exhortation. Elevating ideas. CTear, enlightened ex- 

Letter LI 202 

Short letter fuU of kindness. 

Letter LIL Tegel, Oct. 17, 1825, . . . . ■ 204 

Contemplation of the firmament affording high enjoyment. Domestic 
life at Burgorncr. 

Letter LIIL Berlin, Oct, 30, 1825, 209 

The Engravings of Tegel. 

Letter LIV. Berlin, Nov. 8, 1825, 210 

Description of the exterior and interior of the house. Walter Scott. 


Letter LV. Berlin, Dec. 1, 1825, page 215 

Biography-: a new part. Kind interest in the development of tlie cha- 
racter of a young girl not yet quite emerged from childhood. 

Letter LVI. Berlin, Dec. 25, 1825, 218 

Rapid flight of time. Account with the world closed. Life. Death. 
Continuance here. 

Letter LVII. Berlin, Feb. 14, 1826, 221 

Tranquillity and Cheerfulness. Cadet de Vaux's method of cure. In- 
voking liappiuess. 

Letter LVIIL Berlin, March 13, 1826, . . . .226 
Advice, and assurances of sympathy. 

Letter LIX. Ottmachau, April 10, 1826, .... 230 

Short description of the journey. Young Rose, a favourite of William 
von Humboldt's. Courtliness. 

Letter LX. Glogau, May 9, 1826, 233 

Journey back. Description of it. Newspapers unnecessary. Historical 
events in the mass, and again in individual cases. Transition from 
Earth to Heaven. Finding and seeing again those we have loved : 
this hope, this faith indispensable. Pleasure in churchyards: very 
beautiful one at Konigsbcrg. 

Letter LXL Berlin, 237 

In Berlin again, and very busy. Earnest aspiration after a higher, more 
noble position than is here granted to U5. One-sided views. Crime. 

Letter LXIL Tegel, Sept. 10, 1826, 240 

Commencement of a new part of the Biography. Higher Aiew, higher aim 
of sorrowful events. Somewhat from the world of spkits. 

Letter LXIIL Tegel, October 1826, 245 

Extraordinary mental power. Somewhat appertaining to the Spiritual 
World. Elevating and consoling explanations. Deep reverence for 
the goodness and wisdom of the Deity. 

Letter LXIV. Berlin, Not. 8, 1826, 249 

The idea of guardian spirits watching over us a consoling and beneficent 
idea. Bible. Old and New Testaments. Reflections on the firma- 
ment. Immortality. Death : joyful anticipation of it. Joy and hope 
in Death, and in the expectation of a subsequent beautiful Life. 

Letter LXV. Tegel, Dec. 6, 1826, 253 

Blessing of Christianity. 

Letter LXVL Eudolstadt, Jan. 2, 1827, .... 255 

Rudolstadt. Beauty of the neighbourhood. Interesting description of 
the clever and amiable Princess. 


Letter LXVII. Berlin, Jan. 28, 1827, .... page 259 

Tliouglits and ideas on various sulyects. Religious views full of consola- 

Letter LXVIII. Tcge], March 18, 1827, .... 264 
Offeubach. Madame de Laroche. 

Letter LXIX. Berlin, April 10, 1827, .... 266 
Melancholy and Qieerfnlness. EecoUections of Offenbach. 

Letter LXX. Berlin, May 2, 1827, 269 

Correspondence: -what is requisite, and wherein consists the enjoyment 
and the pleasure. Few men have a proper sense of this. Festivals 
and days of rest. Explanation of " the peace which the world giveth 

Letter LXXL Tegel, May 23, 1827, 275 

Joy again in the trees, ever new and full of rich ideas. Return to the 
correspondence, and proposition. 

Letter LXXIL Tegel, June 12, 1827, . ... 281 

Appearances of Nature : a storm the most fearful of ah. Announcement 
of a long journey to the Baths of Gastein. Salzburg, with its iine 
mountains, the most beautiful district in Germany. Death by light- 
ning, an answer to a passage in a letter. 

Letter LXXIIL Landshut, July 19, 1827, . . . .288 

Travelling distracting to business. Quiet thought more liked by women 
than by men. Feminine employments permit the calm existence of 
the Soul, the living in thought and feehng , the occupations of men 
forbid this ;^thence most women are more interesting than men. 
Munich. Baireuth. Beautiful country, rich in curiosities of all sorts. 

Letter LXXIV. Baths of Gastein, Aug. 5, 1827, . . .292 
Description of the journey. Gastein. The waterfall, and the general 
chai-ming situation of this Spa. Munich. Large collection of objects 
of art there. 

Letter LXXV. Baths of Gastein, Aug. 21, 1827, . . .296 
The family of St. . Return to BerUn and TegeL 

Letter LXXVL Tegel, Sept. 5, 1827, 299 

Description of a very beautiful district. Salzburg, Baireuth, and around 
Gastein. Impression of nature and the country. 

Letter LXXVIL Tegel, Sept. 21, 1827, .... 302 
Sympathy at meeting again the St. family. 

Letter LXXVIII. Tegel, Oct. 8, 1827, . ... 306 

Southern and northern climates. (Repetition, but only in order to pass 
over to higher ideas : Ton^dity in Death, rising to a new Life, dying 
and awakening in a new Existence.) 


Letter LXXIX. Tegel, Oct. 26, 1827, . . . page 309 

Letter LXXX. December 1827, 311 

The stari-y Heavens. Mood of mind in the contemplation of winter. 
Sympathetic dwelling upon a melancholy disposition. Faith. Peace 
of mind. 

Letter LXXXL Berlin, January 1828, .... 316 

Extraordinarj' fancies of a great man : high and elevating ideas connected 
with them. Important plan of a journey. The Firmament. The 
greatness of Nature, of the Creator, and of His Goodness. 

Letter LXXXIL Berlin, March 21, 1828, (Change of route,) . 321 
Letter LXXXIIL On the road, (Meeting again!) . . , 321 

Letter LXXXIV. Paris, April 23, 1828, .... 322 

Recollections of the place. Frankfort.* France. Travelling in France 
not agreeable. Arrival at Paris. Account of the joumej'. 

Letter LXXXV. London, May 20, 1828, .... 326 

Passage from Calais to London. Sunrise on the sea. Impression of the 
great city. Mode of life in London. 

Letter LXXXVL London, June 1828, .... 329 

Manifold interests in Learning, as well as in Art and Science. Departure 
from London. Close of Parliament. English mode of worship not 
edifj'ing, Quakers. Mrs. Fry. Visit to the principal jail. 

Letter LXXXVn. Salzburg, Aug. 17, 1828, . . . 334 

Return to Germany. Journey from London to Gastein through Alsace, 
Swahia, and Bavaria. The King of Bavaria: opinion of him: esti- 
mation of his high worth. Treasures of Art. 

Letter LXXXVIII 337 

Value of calm, retired life : it is derived from the soul. Remark on this 
subject. A glance at Gastein. 

Letter LXXXIX. Tegel, Oct. 16, 1828, .... 341 
Castle Thumau. Contemplation of the starry heavens. 

Letter XC. Berlin, Nov. 16 to Dec. 16, 1828, . . .344 
Sympathy in a distressed state of mind. Prospect of death. Soothing 
consolation. Sad and gloomy forebodings at the close of the year, of 
the illness of Madame von Humboldt, which threatened to be fatal 

* Ekratttm (in a few copies.)— /"or Taurus, 2d line of p. 324, read Taunus. 





The biographical interest of the following letters has nothing 
in common with that vulgar hunt after notabilities which 
has deluged the modern literature of most countries with 
a weak and often offensive flood of gossip, scandal, and 
mere personal reminiscence. Their value is of a very dif- 
ferent and more enduring kind. They contain the con- 
fidential reflections and advice of a rich and highly endowed 
mind, addressed to one whose sex, misfortunes, and position 
in life, rendered her peculiarly susceptible of the spiritual 
consolation and support which it is the aim of these letters 
to convey, and which she seems to have used so well and 
prized so highly. They derive little additional interest from 
the circumstances and history of the writer ; and with regard 
to his correspondent, we know nothing beyond what is con- 
tained in the brief but interesting narrative she has herself 
prefixed to these volumes. Nevertheless, as it happens that 
the name of the writer has already attained a world-wide 
celebrity through his younger brother, whose extensive and 
indefatigable researches have enabled him to add so many 
rich contributions to geographical science, it has been judged 
advisable to prefix to this translation the following brief 


outline of the life-history of the less known, but not less 
noble and generous, elder brother. 

William von Humboldt was born at Potsdam on the 
22d June 1767. Berlin was the scene of his early educa- 
tion, and it is easy to imagine that the varied life of the 
metropolis afforded full scope for the exercise of that acute 
though contemplative spirit of observation which he sub- 
sequently displayed. He continued his studies at the Uni- 
versity of Gottingen along with his brother Alexander. It 
was in 1788, while a student at Gottingen, that Humboldt, 
then in his 21st year, passed the three important days at 
the spa of Pyrmont with the correspondent of his maturer 
years — Charlotte — (afterwards, it is said, Frau von Stein), 
— a young lady who, with her father, a clergyman in easy 
circumstances, was a passing guest at that M'-atering-place. 
They lived at the same hotel, became interested in each 
other, rambled together about the neighbourhood, and, at 
the expiry of the three days, parted, not to meet again un- 
til both were in the autumn of life. The young student 
left a few lines in Charlotte's album, — a reminiscence which 
she treasured with secret regard, and which, twenty-six 
years later, she employed as a passport to that counsel and 
assistance which misfortune then compelled her to seek 
from her early friend. 

After leaving Gottingen, Humboldt seems to have passed 
many years at Jena, where he enjoyed daily intercourse 
with Schiller, and commenced a friendship which was only 
severed by the death of the latter. Their correspondence 
was published by Humboldt in 1830, twenty-five years after 
SchUler's death. The critical cast of Humboldt's mind was 


early pointed out to him by his friend in these interesting 
letters, which relate chiefly to the philosophy of poetry and 
art. " I am convinced," says Schiller, " that the principal 
cause which prevents your success as an author is the pre- 
dominance of the reasoning over the creative faculties of 
your mind, whence arises the preventive influence of criti- 
cism over invention, which is always destructive of mental 

production In many respects I cannot call 

you a genius ; yet I must allow that in other points you 
are one. For your mind is so peculiar that you are some- 
times exactly the opposite of aU who are conspicuous either 
through their reasoning faculties, their learning, or through 
abstract speculation. You will of course not attain per- 
fection in the sphere of mental creation, but in the sphere 
of reasoning." The friendship that could admit of such 
valuable frankness must have exerted a powerful influence 
over Humboldt's mind. His interest in poetry, philosophy, 
and the fine arts, was no doubt greatly increased by this 
intimacy, which rendered Humboldt's natural taste for phil- 
ology and the study of national literature far more valuable 
to the public than it would otherwise have been. 

In 1800, Humboldt, who had some time previously mar- 
ried the Fraulein von Dacherode, a rich and noble lady 
whom he espoused from pure affection, was sent to Rome as 
ambassador from Prussia, and a few years later he was 
appointed minister-plenipotentiary at the Papal court. His 
residence there not only gave a new impulse to his love of 
antiquarian pursuits, but contributed to render him an 
accomplished statesman. On his return in 1808 he was 
created a Councillor of State, and appointed chief of the 
department for Public Instruction and Medical Institutions 



in the home ministrj. In this rank he was sent to Vienna 
as ambassador from his court in 1810, and afterwards as 
plenipotentiary to the peace congress at Prague in 1813, 
where, after long negociations, Austria gave up her neutral 
position, and espoused the cause of Prussia and Russia. He 
had, however, in the interval, spent some time in complete 
retirement at Tegel, devoting his leisure to literature. He 
was present at the conferences of Chatillon, and signed the 
capitulation of Paris along with Hardenberg on the part of 
Prussia. He afterwards assisted at the congress of Vienna 
as representative of Prussia, and in 1815 signed the treaty 
of peace between Prussia and Saxony which deprived the 
King of Saxony of one half of his dominions. It was shortly 
before this, viz. in 1814, that the correspondence between 
Humboldt and his friend Madame von Stein commenced ; 
but it was not until 1819, when he had retired from pub- 
lic aflfairs, that he could find leisure to write many private 
letters. In the mean time, in July 1816, he repaired to 
Frankfort as Prussian plenipotentiary, to undertake the de- 
licate task of dividing Germany among its several princes. 
Soon afterwards the King appointed him a member of his 
council. He next went as Ambassador-Extraordinary to Lon- 
don, and afterwards, in October 1818, to Aix-la-Chapelle, 
to assist at the congress held there. In 1819 he was called 
into the Prussian Ministry, and made a privy-councillor. 
He had scarcely, however, entered upon his duties, when he 
felt obliged to resign, along with Beyme and Boyen, because 
he could not follow the course of Von Hardenberg, but, in 
opposition to him, felt it to be his duty to remind his 
sovereign of the solemn promise he had given in 1813 to 
the Prussian people, that they should receive a liberal con- 


stitution in the form of a national parliament competent to 
legislate as well as to advise, — a promise never redeemed 
by the then monarch, and not yet entirely fulfilled by the 
present one. Humboldt thenceforward devoted himself to 
literature and science, living chiefly at his seat at Tegel, 
near Berlin; nor did he again take any part in the councils 
of state till 1830. This was a year after the death of his 
wife, to whom he was so sincerely and devotedly attached 
as to render all thoughts of a second union quite repug- 
nant to him. Her loss evidently made a deep impression 
upon his mind, however independent of external circum- 
stances he might endeavour to render himself, and it doubt- 
less hastened the day of his own death. 

So early as 1825 the French Academy of Belles Lettres 
had elected him a foreign member of their society. He 
seems to have enjoyed the friendship of Herder before his 
death in 1804, and to have been on intimate terms with 
Professor Ritter of Berlin, the celebrated reviver of geo- 
graphical studies. He names with respect Madame de Stael 
and Madame de Laroche, whom he knew slightly in his 
youth. Chevalier Bunsen, still living, seems to have been 
early appreciated by this remarkable man, who was evidently 
3 discriminating judge of character, and was ready to do 
fuU justice to the virtues of all. It will be noticed that he 
was partially acquainted with Gall, first at Vienna and 
afterwards at Paris, but not sufficiently so to have com- 
pletely understood his system. Lavater's was preferred by 
Humboldt, probably because he understood him better. 
The short chai'acteristic notices of Campe, Stolberg, and 
still more of the famous Schleiermacher, add considerably 
to the interest of the following letters. 


The works of Humboldt, collected by his brother Alex- 
ander, and printed in 1841 in four volumes, are of a very 
miscellaneous character, and show the extraordinary versa- 
tility of his powers. Besides many critical and philological 
essays and treatises, embracing erudite researches into the 
Basque and Sanscrit languages, and several pieces in verse, 
published between 1799 and 1830, more than a hundred 
sonnets left at his death in manuscript have been printed 
in his collected works, — and yet these are only selections 
from his poetical pieces. 

During the last ten years of his life his correspondence 
becomes most interesting. He was then principally occupied 
with the study of North- American and Malay languages, 
and at last exclusively with the Kawi language. In this he 
was assisted by Dr. Bushman, chief librarian of the Royal 
Library at Berlin, and to him did Humboldt commit the 
publication of his work " concerning the Kawi language in 
the island of Java," along with an introduction relating 
" the difference in the structure of human languages, and 
its influence upon the spiritual development of the human 
race." Humboldt bequeathed all his valuable and rare 
manuscripts and books, besides materials for a second volume 
on the literature of the Malays, to the Royal Library at 

Humboldt died on the 8th April 1835, at the age of 69. 
His character may be best gathered from the following 
letters. In them we have a sort of autobiography, revealing 
in a form never intended for publication, indeed expressly 
private, his deepest feelings and his profoundest thoughts. 
As the reader advances he will not only learn to know and 
to admire the author more and more, but will feel that he 


grows more serious, more earnest, and even more original, 
till the very day of his death. 

" The purpose of this correspondence" — we quote from the 
Athenaeum — " is obvious throughout — to console, guide, and 
enliven, by advice and reflections at once elevating and 
serious. Of course, the person whom such a writer felt to 
be at once worthy of his regard and able to appreciate and 
profit by letters like these, must have proved herself supe- 
rior to the common run of letter-writers or readers. Of 
hers we have but the first touching communication, and a 
few modest extracts to explain passages in answer. These 
are gracefully written and well expressed. Von Himiboldt 
continually speaks of them with high commendation ; prais- 
ing their unaffected elegance and originality of thought, as 
well as their feminine and religious character. He found 
the impressions of youth confirmed by the i-enewed acquaint- 
tance of age, and seems to have taken a real pleasure in 
the correspondence for its own sake, independently of its 
purpose of doing good. That object, at all events, was 
happily fulfilled. The saddened and lonely woman, indeed, 
appears, we may almost say, to have lived on this support 
in the intervals of a laborious existence. All hopes of re - 
dress from Brunswick having proved vain, she had honourably 
resolved to maintain herself independent by the work of 
her own hands. Some kind of fancy manufacture, it would 
seem, procured her a moderate subsistence in a small garden- 
house near Casselj and her leisure from this occupation was 
passed in solitude, with a few books and this correspondence 
with the object of her maiden love. 

" It was preserved on both sides, equally by the wish of 
both parties, in unbroken privacy. Long after Von Hum- 


boldt's death, no one had been allowed to see or even hear 
of the precious letters. ' They contained nothing,' says the 
survivor, ' that in itself needed to have been kept secret ; 
the whole world might have known their contents: — but 
they were written to me; they were a sacred relic of my 
life; I preserved in silence, and hid from all other eyes — 
what had been written for myself alone, — had repaid me for 
many sacrifices and rewarded me for much suffering, — what 
was to me the kinder fortune of my life, that reconciled me 
to the harder conditions of my destiny.' Later, when the 
prospect of her own end became nearer, she felt that such 
letters ought not to be lost to the view of others who reve- 
renced the memory of her friend. They were copied out 
by her own hand, and left to be published after she herself 
should be no more. This voice from the past now comes 
to us from the grave of both correspondents. 

" The tenor of all written intercourse of an intimate kind 
continued to a life's end is progressively saddening. We 
see the cloud stealing by degrees over the narrowing hori- 
lion; — one after another, the possessions of life drop and 
wither on the downward path ; and the glimpses of a future, 
that raise the hopes of the wanderers themselves and console 
them for the losses that befall them on their way, do not 
take away the sense of bereavement from those who are 
pursuing their steps with affectionate regard. In the present 
instance, the other circumstances which we have mentioned 
give a peculiar effect to this interest, — and will be felt to 
throw a touching colour over the relics of a correspondence 
in its nature unusual and almost romantic. 

" Its substance is throughout of a grave and wholly in- 
tellectual character. There is no gossip — hardly any personal 


notice of daily events — nothing sentimental or frivolous, in 
the letters. They are filled with reflections and ideas. The 
writer gives minute and careful details of the internal oc- 
cupation of his mind upon many subjects, — chosen, we may 
see, because of their application to the circumstances of his 
friend. Throughout, we behold the character of Von Hum- 
boldt in an impressive light : in the first division of the 
series, when living, with every circumstance of prosperity 
and happiness, blest with a beloved and thoroughly com- 
panionable wife, a numerous and afiectionate family, hon- 
oured at home and abroad, — even then finding his chief 
delight and employment in the pursuit of retired studies, 
in reflections on the past, and in the contemplation of ideas 
reaching beyond the sphere of time. With all this he is 
somewhat self-complacent — fond, in a kind, friendly way, 
of exerting influence and authority; but modest in his 
personal demands, simple in his habits, and, while thankful 
for his good fortune, by no means dependent upon it for his 
happiness. That this character was not merely a thing of 
pretence, we see from the second half of the series — after 
the loss of his wife had taken from him, as he repeatedly 
says, ' all the joy of life.' From this period we find him 
suddenly declining into the infirmities of age; but stiU 
cheerful — busy as ever with his mental pursuits — gladly 
helpful to others, and noticing the decay of his health and 
bodily powers with an observant, but not in the least com- 
plaining mind. He is not impatient to die, but quite ready 
to depart from a world from which his pleasure is gone, — 
grateful the while for all the good he can still enjoy — re- 
garding old age as the final and becoming condition of 
humanity, but as one who feels that life here is the preface 


to a more complete existence hereafter. Such, in general, 
are some of the chief characteristics of this correspondence, 
— in which, however, many other points will be found to 
deserve a reader's attention. He wiU be struck Avith the 
original views and forcible remarks that abound in it, and 
wiU admire the unaffected spiritual elevation of the writer 
all the more when he remembers that this lover of solitary 
thought, this worshipper of the moral and intellectual ideal 
as the chosen objects of his pursuit and love, was no thin 
recluse, a stranger to society or fallen out with it, — but a 
practised statesman as well as a renowned scholar, trained 
in the great world, in which his station and character still 
required him to act, where he enjoyed the highest reputa- 
tion, and was always ready to take his place when a duty 
was to be performed, or a good to others to be procured by 
his exertions." 

*^,* It may be mentioned that the lady whose name appears on 
the title-page of these volumes as translator is not responsible for 
the larger portion of the first volume, which has been rendered by 


The letters herewith given to the world will doubtless 
be received as a welcome addition to the already pub- 
hshed works of William von Humboldt. A wish has 
often been expressed for the pubhcation, in a separate 
form, of his unprinted works, especially his letters ; 
altogether apart from his learned writings, and as not 
properly belonging to the same class as these. The 
following letters were written between the years 1814 
and 1835. It was only after many years' hesitation 
that the Editor at last came to the resolution of im- 
parting to others, through the medium of the press, 
what she had all along regarded as a sacred rehc. She 
became at length convinced, that what was so essen- 
tially characteristic of a truly great man should not 
be allowed to perish. 

What WiUiam von Humboldt was to the State in 
times of great excitement and historical importance — 
what he accomphshed for the people and for mankind 
in general, with his lofty humanity and noble inde- 
pendence of mind — his investigations in science and 

VOL. I. B 


literature, — all these have become matter of history, 
and are written on imperishable tablets. But in the 
inexhaustible riches of thought, the depths of feeling, 
the multiplicity, elevation, and purity of the ideas in 
which the deceased lived, there shone conspicuous 
above all " the superior nature, the nobility and mag- 
nanimity of soul," as his honoured brother expresses 
it, by which he was animated. How apt and powerful 
was the language in which he clothed his sentiments ! 
And yet this, fine as it was, formed only the outer shell 
and husk of his great mind. There dwelt in the 
depths of his soul an entirely disinterested, strong, and 
self-denying will; to this were united that depth and 
earnestness of purpose which spring from truth — that 
power of conviction, amiable forbearance, charity in 
judging, and that all-embracing, infinite charm of a 
delicate sensibility. 

All this is eminently conspicuous in these letters to 
a female friend, who left them behind her to be printed 
after her decease. Besides the light they throw on the 
character of the author, it is proper to acknowledge, 
in giving them pubhcity, that they attained another 
and a higher end : — the reception of each had a very 
beneficial efiect. They were addressed to a friend for- 
saken by fortune ; they were dictated by sympathy, and 
intended for her consolation ; and they attained their 
end. They may yet have this effect on the readers for 
whom they have been selected. The minds of great 
men, and all that has come forth from them, certainly 
continue to influence posterity, even when they them- 
selves have passed away. 

These letters are not for every one, — as indeed may 
be said of all books. But inquiring readers of both 


sexes will here find rich and varied instruction, and the 
subjects treated of will always command their attention 
and gratitude. They touch on outward life only as a 
connecting hnk from which to draw ideas. They pro- 
ceed from an inexhaustible source of inward mental 
riches. The characteristic matter by which the whole 
is animated, and which is imperishable, can never be 
drawn from without. 

The contents of these letters are not learned nor 
scientific ; still less are they political or historical, aes- 
thetic or romantic. If outward phenomena are dwelt 
on for a time, they quickly return again to that in- 
ward existence which despises all outward show. They 
compromise no one, and do not contain a word which 
is censurable, or which can be unpleasant to any one. 
They show how a great man expressed and proved 
his sympathy and friendship ; how he analyzed and 
brought into harmony contending feelings ; how he 
succeeded in the art of persuasion, and that often 
with the most touching modesty. It was thus, as many 
of these letters prove, this noble-minded man imparted 
comfort to others, and raising them above the evils of 
time and fate, led them to the same point of view 
from which he himself contemplated the life of man. 

So much for the prehminary remarks from the hand 
of a friend. What follows is added in all truth and 
fidehty by the Editor herself; it is for her alone indeed 
to do so. 

And in all truth and fidehty will I here add what 
is necessary in the way of explanation, but will first 


of all subjoin to the foregoing what properly belongs 
to it. 

This correspondence formed, for a long succession of 
years, my only, my highest, secret happiness. In all 
that befell me — whatever I experienced of sympathy 
and consolation, counsel and encouragement, elevation 
and serenity, and even of perception and recognition 
of important truths, I drew from this inexhaustible 
treasure, which was ever accessible, ever at my side. 

Such a correspondence, which nothing disturbed or 
interrupted, leads to a closer knowledge of character 
on both sides. It cannot be called a secret, for the 
whole world might know the contents of it. But the 
letters were addressed to me, and were therefore re- 
garded as the sanctuary of my life ; I preserved in 
silence and in secret that which was written for me 
alone, which indemnified me for great privations, re- 
warded me for many sufferings, formed my sweetest 
earthly happiness, and quite reconciled me to the world 
and to my own fate. 

I need scarcely mention that many of the letters are 
withheld — more indeed than the half — as touching on 
matters of too confidential a nature to admit of their 
being given to the world without a species of desecra- 
tion. There are others, again, which in respect of 
beauty, and even of self-praise, are so characteristic, so 
charmingly expressive of the mind's inward riches, 
and of the fulness of tlie kindest and most upright 
heart, that they ought not to be withheld from those 
who will certainly cherish every remembrance of the 
kind. It is my desire that aU the letters which appear 
here may be regarded as a double legacy, a double 
voice, from the invisible world; — first of all, to the 


dear remaining relatives of the writer — next, to his 
numerous friends and admirers, in whose hearts his 
image can never be extinguished, consecrated as it is 
by love and reverence; — and they are also designed 
as a legacy to the narrow circle of the friends of the 
Editor, who has carefully collected, preserved, and con- 
scientiously selected them. Those who had the hap- 
piness of being known to the deceased, and to whom 
he deigned to unfold the treasures of his mind, will 
recognise his hand in these letters, in the turn of the 
ideas, and in the frequent self-delineations contained 
in them. 

There is much requiring explanation, in order to 
render them clearly intelligible ; but this I am unwilling 
to give. What woman, honoured and blessed by the 
friendship and sympathy of William von Humboldt, 
favoured during so many years by such confidential 
letters, and in possession of such interesting writings, 
could have the courage to place her own views and 
thoughts beside those which flowed from his pen ! It 
is more natural and becoming to allow him alone to 
speak. It wiU be clearly seen by the letters them- 
selves, and it depends on them alone to show what 
ought to be the tendency of the correspondence. 

A few words as to the origin of the correspondence 
may be interesting to the reader. I shall relate it 
shortly and simply. 

It was in early youth, in the year 1788, that I, only 
a few years younger than he, first became acquainted 
with Herr von Humboldt. He had come from Got- 
tingen, where he M'as studying, to Pyrmont, whither 
I had accompanied my father, who visited one of 
the spas every season. We lived in the same house, 

B 2 


sat next eacli other at the table d'hote, and, along with 
my father, spent three of the happy days of youth 
as inseparable companions in our walks among the 
charming avenues and alleys of Pyrmont. We had 
so much to say to each other — so many views and 
opinions to impart — so many ideas to interchange, — 
we were never done. Whatever string was touched, 
and however slightly, it found the deepest response. 

It was then the last epoch of a poetical time, full of 
beauty and hope and promise, when one part of the 
youth of the country lived in an ideal and inspired 
world, and the other was advancing as now in a pro- 
saic realism. We both belonged to the first. And 
there still prevailed at that period the sweet calm be- 
fore the approaching storm, which soon broke out so 

If in youth there is not yet a clear conception of 
the great and noble, still it is felt and anticipated. 
William von Humboldt's character was the same in 
early youth as it afterwards appeared and continued to 
the end of his life. Even in 1788 his ideas were clear 
and sublime ; there w^as at that time the same peculiar 
unruffled repose shed over his whole being, which was 
conspicuous in his conversation, and made him so in- 
fluential in society. Every word was convincing, and 
shed a flood of light on whatever subject he touched. 

At the end of three days Ilerr von Humboldt departed. 
We remained longer. To me the remembrance of those 
three hajDpy days of my youth outweighs in value all 
the rest of an ordinary everyday life. The memory 
of them has accompanied me throughout my whole 
life. My young friend had made an impression on 
me, hitherto unknown and never to be extinguished, 


which, different from other feelings, concealed within 
myself and held sacred, ran like a mysterious thread 
through all my future destinies, and which I have al- 
ways blest and regarded as the benign ordination of a 
gracious Providence. Neither wishes nor hopes nor 
disquietude were mingled with the remembrance of 
these three days, any more than with the days them- 
selves. I felt myself infinitely and inwardly enriched, 
and my mind became more earnest than it had ever 
been before. We had talked over many things which 
still occupied me for a long time, and the love of the 
true, the good, and the beautiful, became clearer and 
stronger within me. 

We did not see each other again, nor did I entertain 
the slightest hope of our ever meeting in future.* I 
enshrined the beautiful vision that had passed over me 
in the inner sanctuary of my mind, never brought it 
to light, nor even spoke of it, and thus secured it from 
the desecration of foreign contact. 

The leaf of an album, more used as a keepsake at 
that time than now, formed a precious memorial to me 
throughout my whole life. I little thought how impor- 
tant it would become as a document hereto annexed,f 
and characteristic both of the young Humboldt and of 
our youthful intercourse. 

I was married early in the year 1789, soon after 
having made this acquaintance, so important to me in 
after life. My marriage, which proved childless, lasted 
only five years, and I never entered into a second. 

My destiny became unusually and painfully com- 

* We did meet, however, twice, after many years. 

t See the facsimile of the leaf of the album, opposite title-page. 


plicated, and my whole life a tissue of reverses, owing 
to enigmatical and secret intrigues and enmities, only 
unveiled in the end ; but which I had reason to bless, 
for to these alone could I impute the kind sympathy 
bestowed on me by my excellent friend. 

At this time began the great movement, which 
involved more or less in its current the destinies of 
thousands who took no active part in it. It reached 
me also in its force, robbing me of a fortune sujQficiently 
independent for my moderate desires, the possession of 
which had secured me against those struggles in life 
which I was afterwards fated to experience. In the 
eventful year 1806, I lived as a stranger in Brunswick, 
I had continued to reside there for a number of years 
under the mild reign of the aged and much-beloved 
and honoured Duke Charles William Ferdinand. The 
seizure of German property and the rule of the French 
began after the battle of Jena, of which such favour- 
able results had been anticipated The blow fell first 
on Brunswick. Violent as were the succeeding steps, 
they were regarded only as the usual incidents of war, 
but not as a prelude to those which followed. No 
foreign rule was thought of or dreaded. 

A summons was now issued, that all must join will- 
ingly or unwillingly in bearing the general burden. 
On me, however, no demand was made ; but freely 
and willingly I gave a great part of my fortune. A 
sum of money had just been paid to me, which had 
been formerly invested in bills of exchange, but of 
which I could immediately dispose. No one thought 
of danger, as the obligations were guaranteed by the 
States, and the money received by them. It was con- 
sidered quite secure. I had met with severe domestic 


afflictions at that time, and, occupied with tliese, I did 
not perhaps act prudently enough. What was the fate 
of these securities is well known, and needs no further 
mention here. 

Then came those years so important in the world's 
history, 1812, 13, and 14. Of those who experienced 
them, who does not think with delight of the inspira- 
tion of those times, when every one forgot his own 
individual lot, if at all endurable ! I still hved in 
Brunswick. No one had suffered more than the Duke 
himself; — and yet how his people clung to him with 
German fidehty and love ! In a manner highly honour- 
able to the good Prince, he became acquainted with 
my losses and consequent condition. As a stranger, he 
valued my loan higher than it deserved. Some of my 
friends acquainted him fully with all. This kindest of 
princes showed his sympathy for my losses by ad- 
dressing two letters to me, and expressing a wish to 
render me some material service. 1 was advised to 
avail myself of his kindness and to beg for a pension. 
But I could not do so. I trusted to his princely word 
that he would himself take up my cause when affairs 
had come to a happy issue. I should certainly not 
have been disappointed in this confidence, had he not 
fallen at Waterloo. 

Several influential men, filhng high offices in the 
State, interested themselves on my behalf, in order to 
procure me some indemnification : but in vain. Severe 
and oppressive as my losses had been, they were never 

About this time the newspapers spoke in the highest 
terms of the Minister von Humboldt, who after having 
been resident at the headquarters of the King of Prussia, 


had been appointed his plenipotentiary at the Congress 
of Vienna. The thought suddenly occurred to me, to 
recall myself to the remembrance of one whom I had 
never forgotten ; to explain to him openly and without 
reserve the condition in which I then was, and to leave 
it to his judgment to decide whether anything could 
be done for me. The thought no sooner arose in my 
mind than it was accomplished. Whilst I wrote, all my 
youthful feehngs of confidence returned. I gave my 
dear friend the shortest possible survey of many event- 
ful years, but dwelt longer on present circumstances as 
having given me courage to take this step. The much- 
valued album leaf formed an expressive testimony. I 
kept a copy of this letter, part of which I will here 
transcribe as explanatory, and as having been the oc- 
casion of opening the following correspondence. 

I received an immediate answer, which will be read 
with hvely interest by every one who was acquainted 
with the deceased, as being so truly expressive of his 
noble nature. 

Before, however, proceeding to these valuable letters, 
it may be necessary to say something as to their pub- 
lication, or rather the causes which led to it. This 
becomes a duty at a time when so many letters of a 
confidential nature are being given to the world, which, 
along with the interest they excite, must necessarily 
give pain to many, and also deserve just censure un- 
less their authenticity were fully estabhshed. 

The publication of these letters was brought about 
as it were by some invisible power. I had preserved 
silently, as a precious rehc, my enviable treasure, and 
regarded it as an inexhaustible source, from which I 
drew for many years strength and courage, and attained 


to the maturity of which I was capable, and could not 
otherwise have attained. I needed no other nourish- 
ment for my mind, no other book for my instruction, 
no clearer light for my soul. I there found in every 
situation the needful comfort and encouragement. My 
honoured friend adapted himself to my comprehension 
in the kindest manner, and was therefore intelhgible, 
clear, and convincing, on whatever subject he touched. 
If we differed in many of our opinions, this difference 
arose from outward circumstances. But the friend of 
my heart was always the moAang principle of my men- 
tal life ; I lived on with him from one letter to the 
other, and was thus richly and inwardly rewarded for 
undermined health and a life of care and trouble. 
By becoming more retired in my habits, and narrowing 
the circle of my friends, I only followed my own secret 
inclinations ; and my great pleasure and delight, un- 
known and unguessed at by any one, lay in this highly 
animating and inspiring correspondence, which was 
neither interrupted by journeyings nor sickness, but 
to which death alone put a period. It was an especial 
satisfaction to my kind and sympathetic friend that I 
thus held my treasure sacred during half a lifetime. 

Greater leisure having been granted me during the 
latter years of my hfe, I was enabled to enter more 
deeply into the spirit which pervades one and all of 
these letters, and to sound the depths of the rich and 
highly-enlightened mind breathed forth in such ele- 
vated ideas ! These letters were my sole companions 
for many long and lonely years. 

Often, when absorbed with the remembrance of my 
late friend, and pondering over the memorials of so 
singular a connection, it seemed to me unjust that what 


was so expressive of truth and greatness and goodness 
should perish with me. Undoubtedly they were written 
for me alone, and to suit my manner of thinking and ex- 
perience ; but the truths they contain are so convincing 
and so distinctly expressed, the certain way to inward 
peace and happiness is so clearly and mildly and unde- 
niably pointed out, that they must meet with a salutary 
recognition in every well regulated mind. 

And was all this to perish with me? with me to 
come to nought ? 

Here, then, was my first movement towards the 
preservation, in some manner or other, of this rich 

I began to make extracts in manuscript to leave to 
my friends ; but I was soon convinced how perishable 
such legacies are, and how carelessly they are some- 
times read. Reasons presented themselves one after 
another for the preservation of these valuable papers 
through the press. But a great obstacle arose before 
me : my dislike to all publicity. What appeared to 
my friends highly honourable as regarded myself, was 
to me desecration. A second obstacle was the necessity 
of a thorough inspection, and even of re-writing, at 
least partially, the extracts already made. Difficulties 
arose on all sides. Thus, as has already been said, 
years passed before I resolved on publication ; and even 
this not to take place till after my decease. 

Time, which soon consigns to oblivion whatever is 
unimportant, brings to light all that is truly great, 
and will augment the high value of the gift which I 
leave behind me to those who can understand and 
estimate it aright, and who will certainly receive it 
with deep gratitude. 


I regarded it as a sacred duty, after having formed 
the resolution, to make all the extracts myself, and to 
write them with my own hand. I thus secured truth 
and fidelity on the one hand, and on the other made 
no one else responsible. I cannot, however, answer 
for it that repetitions may not occur. I state this here, 
that I may not be obhged to repeat it in every indi- 
vidual case. I certainly require indulgence and for- 
giveness for the mistakes I have committed, and could 
not indeed avoid, as I was too late in resolving to 
pubhsh, and neither asked nor admitted of help from 
others. If, after every care, repetitions do occur, the 
reader will have the goodness to pass over such parts. 
It is for the writer alone to awaken and keep up the 
interest ; and if / am deserving of censure, what he 
has written will be a rich indemnification. 

In accordance vdth my own wishes, none of my 
letters have been preserved — only a few copies and 
fragments to remind me of events which ought not to 
escape from my memory. These I shall add, when 
necessary, in the Appendix. 

VOL. I. 





It is not to your Excellency, not to the Prussian 
State-Minister, but to the never-to-be-forgotten friend 
of my youth, whose unage I have cherished and re- 
verenced for many years, but who never again heard 
of the young girl whom he once met, and with whom 
in his youth he passed three happy days, the memory 
of which is even yet animating and inspiring, that I 
now address myself The name to which the world 
now looks with such high expectation, the position to 
which your mental endowments early raised you, ren- 
dered it easy for me to hear of you, and to accompany 
you in thought. I rejoiced in all the great and noble 
things I heard or read of you, participated in the truth 
and fidehty of the picture, and endeavoured as formerly 
to penetrate and follow, even when I could not quite 
comprehend the mind and spirit from which they 
proceeded. Such things may be signified, but cannot 
be expressed by words. To see you again, even at a 
distance, has ever been a vain wish. I have heard, 
however, more circumstantially fi'om friends who were 
lately for some time in Berlin, what I knew already, 
that your Excellency is very happily married to an 
intellectual and excellent lady, and that you are the 
father of amiable and promising children. 

I here enclose a small leaf, which will recall to your 
mind the three happy days we spent together in our 


youth, at Pyrraont. I have preserved this dear Uttle 
leaf more carefully than all the other relics of my youth, 
as the only token and seal of the purest and at the 
same time the truest earthly joy fate has ever presented 
to me. This little leaf* (which I beg may be returned 
to me) will recall to your Excellency an acquaintance, 
the recollection of which the great scenes and events 
of hfe must long ago have extinguished. Such im- 
pressions are deeper and more indehble in the fe- 
male mind, especially when, as with me (what hesita- 
tion ought I to experience in giving this proof of my 
regard after the lapse of twenty-six years !) the first un- 
known and unacknowledged emotions of awakening love 
were of a mental kind, as they must always be with 
the young who are of a noble nature. For the de- 
velopment of the female character, it is always of the 
highest importance in what manner the feehngs are 
first awakened. And certainly there was nothing sad 
or painful connected with my first awakenings, which 
exercised the greatest infl.uence on my mind and cha- 

Those feehngs outhved time. The dear image, so 
deeply engraved on my mind, never faded. It rose 
ever higher and higher, and continued to be my ideal 
of manly worth and greatness. On it I reposed when 
ready to sink under the difficulties of hfe ; by it I was 
animated when my courage failed ; from it I received 
new faith, when faith in man was shaken. Beheve me, 
ever-beloved friend! — pardon this warm epithet — 1 have 
been matured under many and severe sufferings, but 
never injured or degraded by unworthy feehngs. Your 

* The facsimile. 


Excellency is still the same as you were when we first 
met; — that I feel within my own hosom. Exalted 
rank and the brilhancy of outward position may be 
shoals for many ; but lofty natures attain to maturity 
and perfection whether in the sunshine of prosperity 
or in the dark shades of adversity. " The capacities 
of the heart, and the formation of the mind, are ahke 
unchangeable, alike eternal." 

You will now desire to know something of my past 
life and experience. A long succession of years must 
be treated of, and yet much may be brought within 
the compass of a letter, which nevertheless presents no 
image to the mind, and will not be sufficient for you. 
It will therefore be my endeavour to point out to you, 
from external events, the depth and development of 
my internal life. However much I may endeavour 
after brevity, still it will fill several pages ; and the 
selection and arrangement cannot but be painful, when 
one looks around over countries which are, as it were, 
bedewed with our tears. If, therefore, I am not so 
brief as respect for the person and the time of a Mi- 
nister occupied with such important affairs demands, 
then let the friend of my youth intercede for me with 
him; — let your Excellency lay aside those sheets for 
an hour of remembrance. 

Before we became acquainted, the season of my early 
youth ghded along harmlessly in the quiet retirement 
of a cultivated and pleasant family circle in the country. 
In my dear parents I had seen nothing but uprightness 
and goodness, and a beautiful example of many virtues. 
A fortune more than sufficient for those simple times 
permitted them the enjoyment of many of the amenities 
of hfe, especially of domestic life; — the education of 


their children was conformable to their fortune — care- 
ful above all things with regard to morals, for which 
I feel deeply grateful. Whilst my mother superintended 
household affairs with rare prudence and dignity, my 
father, being in a tolerably free and independent posi- 
tion, yielded to the bent of his inchnations, which led 
him back into the olden time, and to the study of the 
ancients. He lived in the classics, and was surrounded 
by classical works alone. Modern literature had no 
attractions for him ; it left him quite unsatisfied. His 
society was also in harmony with this taste. From 
the conversation to which I silently listened, not al- 
ways learned, but always grave and serious, I received 
perhaps earher than others the foundation of my in- 
tellectual culture, and enjoyed also earlier than usual 
the good fortune of coming into contact with persons 
of importance, of being kindly treated by them, and 
honoured with their sympathy. In this way, and as 
far as my natural talents permitted, I was early led to 
reflect — and, more by listening than by instruction — 
more by contemplation than by talents and acquire- 
ments, I was led on in the way of improvement. The 
earnest direction which my mind thus took, even when 
a mere child, guarded me against many youthful folhes 
and frivohties, but nourished at the same time — more 
at least than is consistent with happiness in life — a 
propensity towards the ideal. Very early, therefore, for 
it existed even in childhood, I formed to myself a high 
and inspiring image of friendship, which appeared to 
me the greatest, indeed the only earthly happiness. 
The first story which inspired me, and which I had 
read again and again, was that of the truly wonderful 
and beautiful disposition and conduct of Jonathan to- 

c 2 


wards the modest David. I collected all the examples 
from ancient and modern times — Richardson's Clarissa 
above all. Capable of any sacrifice, I believed myself 
born for this happiness alone, and desired no higher. 
At Pyrmont the conviction amounted to inspiration, 
and soon became the deep and continual source of 
many fatal sorrows and painful perplexities. Pardon 
this introduction, which I consider necessary to the 
proper imderstanding of what follows. 

I now pass on to the painful and eventful past, and 
from thence to the crushing and oppressive present, as 
that which has given me the courage to take this step. 
It is already becoming easier to me, for since I began 
to write this, the feeling of confidence has returned 
which we formerly enjoyed in our interviews among 
the alleys of Pyrmont. 

Here followed the shortest possible survey of the most 
important events of my life, amongst which those that 
had induced me to write — namely, the great losses I 
had sustained by the State — were the most prominent, 
and were fully authenticated. To this were added the 
plans formed for my relief; all of which were frustrated 
by the loss of my health, and a total failure and ex- 
haustion of all the powers of hfe. These details are not 
required either as commentary or introduction to the 
following letters, of which they were the cause. The 
conclusion ran nearly thus: — "You have now before 
you an outline of my life during this long interval. 
Return in some measure my constant though unex- 
pressed sympathy and interest ! You know the heart 
of woman, and can tell better than I, that whatever 


belongs to a once-beloved object, or makes him happy, 
must be interesting to us. 

" I now close these sheets without fear. In acquaint- 
ing you with my affairs, and making this appeal to 
your heart, I know I am safe, happen what may. How 
anxiously do I look forward to the answer which I am 
sure to receive!" 

H. October 18, 1814. 






Vienna, November 3, 1814. 

I this morning received your letter of 18th October, 
and cannot express to yon how much your remembrance 
has touched and gladdened me. I have always regarded our 
meeting at Pyrmont as a wonderful ordination of fate, and 
you are much mistaken if you think you passed over me like 
a mere fugitive youthful apparition. I thought of you very 
often, and inquired after you frequently, but always fruit- 
lessly. I believed you wei'e married, and fancied you sur- 
rounded by children, and moving in a circle where you had 
long since forgotten me, and that I alone had preserved the 
recollection of those youthful days. I now learn that life 
has been to you a very chequered scene. Had you written 
to me at the time your sufferings were at the height, per- 
haps my answers might have been of service to you. Believe 
me, dear Charlotte — (do not be offended at this familiar 
epithet, since these letters will be read hy none hut ourselves) 
— human beings cannot confide too much in each other. I 
learn now for the first time, and from yourself, that I made 
a deeper impression on you at that time than I had ima- 
gined. Those lines of my own, which I see again after such 

24 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

a lapse of time, are like a voice from another world.* I am 
happy to say, — for it is true cause for happiness, — that I 
have no need to be ashamed of any feeling I entertained in 
my youth ; and, believe me, I am quite as single-minded 
now as I was then. Every word of your letter has taken 
a deep hold on me ; I place myself in your situation, and 
I thank you from my very heart that you have not lost 
faith in me, and that you consider me worthy of your con- 
fidence. Write to me then more at length, if you consider 
it worth the trouble, without ceremony and with perfect 
confidence, of all that I might perhaps have acquired a right 
to know, had I seen you again. — You are very wrong when 
you say that certain impressions are deeper and more lasting 
in the mind of woman. I could prove the contrary to you 
from your own letter. Are you mUing to allow, for it can 
be no reproach — (twenty years have passed since the period 
of our acquaintance, and we shall probably never see each 
other again) — that I nearly disappeared from your memory, 
when I left you 1 At least you did not remind me of my 
promise to visit you again, the neglect of which has often 
greatly mortified me — I could still indeed point out the seat 
in the alley where it was made ; but a feeling of youthful 
pedantry, which made me think it impossible I could delay 
for a week longer my return to Gottingen, prevented me. 
This is to me a certain proof that it was not intended we 
should meet again; and what grieves me most is, that I was 
not destined to impart any lasting joy to your life. Sad or 
painful feelings (of this be convinced) could have no con- 
nection with any intercourse held with me. I am open to 
no reproach of the kind. To what extent your fate has 
interested me, after such a disclosure, you may easily sup- 
pose. I have thought over it to-day in many ways; and I 
entreat of you to resign yourself for a time into my hands 
— to follow blindly my counsel — to believe one who has 

* Referring to the enclosed leaf of the Album, 1788.— See ffie facsimile. 


more experience of the world than you, and who knows 
well what is needful for one in your state of mind. Set 
aside at the same time all trifling considerations, be per- 
fectly open and confidential with me, and you will thereby 
do me the greatest favour you possibly can. What is most 
needful for you in your present condition both of body and 
mind is repose. The anxiety and exertion necessary for your 
support undermine both. You were, as I well remember, 
strong and healthy, and you became so again latterly, as it 
appears. Remain only one year in repose, and take care of 
your health, and it will return again in spite of the storms 
you have encountered. This is at the same time the best 
advice as regards your other plans. Believe me, he who 
seeks in the time of need, finds with difficulty. If, on the 
contrary, one can only live for a time free from anxiety, 
circumstances arise of themselves. Time alone can show 
which of your plans is practicable, and also how I can fur- 
ther them. I consider it a duty to speak thus openly to 
you on the matter. Oh ! how very wrong it would be of 
you to be offended with me ! 

The Duke's letters are very kind, and do honour to him ; 
but he cannot, as you see from the letters of your friends, 
be the first to give assistance.* These things must there- 
fore be left to time and fate to decide. Grant me then the 
favour of being permitted to assist you in the meantime : 
let me have the satisfaction of knowing that one year has 
passed over your head undisturbed by petty outward cares. 
Yes, dear Charlotte, let me earnestly entreat of you not to 
despise my off"er ! It would certainly be the falsest of all 
delicacy, and you may be assured that no one hut ourselves 
shall know anything of it. I am not rich, but I know very 
well what I am doing, and can see from the tenor of your 
letter and its enclosures, that you have accustomed yourself 
to great simplicity in your manner of life, which increases 

* This is explained in tlie following letters. 
VOL. I. D 

26 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

my esteem and respect for you. I herewith enclose a bill 
for your use, with the understanding that it is only meant 
for a few months. But do as I ask you, and write to me 
honestly and confidentially what you require, — including a 
visit to the baths. Trust me, I never do more than I am 
able, and you can return it to me if your condition and 
circumstances improve ; but you must distinctly understand 
my plan, which is simply this, that you are to have a whole 
year before you, free from pecuniary cares, during which 
you may form your future plans calmly and without anxiety. 
I know right well what I am exposing myself to, after the 
description you have given of yourself. You may refuse all 
my offers, see nothing but presumption in them, and load 
me with reproaches. I must persevere, however, in my 
proposal, as being the only one suited to your condition. 
Never suppose, dear Charlotte, that I see anything unseemly 
in trying to live by the work of one's own hands. You 
shall be quite free in future. It is only till your health is 
restored that you must obey me. Every kind of labour is 
at present destructive to you. If you apply, notwithstand- 
ing, to others, no one wiU answer you so unobtrusively and 
unselfishly : others will think they are doing you a favour ; 
I ask you to do me one. But enough of this : I will now 
speak of myself, as you request. — I married, as you already 
know, three years after I saw you, and have now five chil- 
dren; three I lost. Mine was entirely a marriage of in- 
clination, and never perhaps was any man more fortunate 
in his connection than I have been. But for the last two 
years my wife's health has unfortunately become delicate, 
and my duties have often detained me far away from her, 
as is the case at present. You say you have often heard of 
me, and must therefore know that I was for several years 
ambassador at Rome. I accepted of the appointment en- 
tirely on account of the country, and would never have left 
it, but for the unfortunate events which occurred. It became 
to a certain extent my duty to give my services, and I have 


therefore, from time to time, been placed in perplexing 
circumstances. But my situation is little suited to my 
inclinations, which lead me rather to a more simple and 
quiet manner of life. Throughout the war I was at head- 
quarters; then in England; from thence I went to Switzer- 
land to visit my wife, who had travelled thither. I am now 
at the Congress, and she at her own estate, from whence 
she goes to BerUn. After the Congress I intend visitino- 
her there, and then to go as Ambassador to Paris, whither 
she will follow me some time after. My eldest son, who is 
already an officer, went at the age of sixteen into the field, 
where he received a wound; but he is now happily returned, 
quite recovered. Besides him I have three girls and a little 
boy. The two youngest girls have been brought up in 
Italy, and could not speak a syllable of German when they 
came to Vienna, the eldest in her tenth year. I wish you 
could see them; — they are two charming creatures; the 
little boy is just five years old. I had the misfortune to lose 
two sons at Rome, and a daughter Avho was born when my 
wife was on her way to Paris, and whom I never saw. You 
now know all that regards my outward condition; — of the 
inward, one may speak but not write. 

Accept once more my hearty thanks. I know not whe- 
ther I shall ever see you again, and can indeed scarcely 
entertain such a hope. I cannot now form to myself any 
distinct image of you. But if that which I bear in my heart 
is but a vision of the past, and one to which my imagina- 
tion has largely added since our meeting, which was only of 
momentary duration, believe me it never was and never 
could be of a fugitive nature. Yours entirely, H. 

I return the original documents and the keepsake. 

28 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Vienna, Dec. 18, 1814. 

Your letter, dear Charlotte, has given me great pleasure, 
and I thank you heartily for it. You place too high a value 
on what was so natural, and could not indeed be otherwise. 
The recollection of you has never been effaced from my 
mind, nor ever can ; but it did not occur to me to 
think that I should hear of you again, or that you could 
have any remembrance of me. All at once you recall to me 
the images of the past and of my youth by your kindness, 
and by your frank confession that were it not for the cir- 
cumstances which separated us you might perhaps have felt 
more. I have answered you on the impulse of the mo- 
ment, and with the pleasurable emotions you have awakened 
in me, and will continue so to do. Do not praise me for 
this, but continue your kindness and confidence ; write to 
me as warmly and confidentially as you do now ; be as open 
with me as I am with you, and never suppose that your 
letters can come too frequently, or be too circumstantial. 
There is nothing more delightful to a man than the implicit 
devotion of a female heart. I am very far indeed from 
making the smallest claim on you — I possess no such right. 
You can have but a very imperfect image of me in your 
mind. When I hold intercourse with you, I must shake 
myself loose from business and cares and distractions. But 
if you continue to write to me as you do now, telling me 
confidentially and -without reserve all that concerns your out- 
ward and inward existence, in a manner corresponding with 
your early feelings towards me, I will receive it with the 
liveliest joy and gratitude. Write to me, therefore, I pray 
you, from time to time. You write extremely weU, and 


naturally besides; and I must confess I am so childish 
that even your handwriting gives me pleasure : it is pretty 
in itself, and 1 remember it of yore.* Tell me above all 
about yourself. Your last letter contains scarcely a word 
as to your health. Let me know whether you improve in 
strength, in appearance, and in cheerfulness. I have also 
a request to make of you, — never wait for an answer to 
write to me ; be magnanimous, and do not expect letter for 
letter. I have very little time, and can write but seldom, 
and by snatches; give, then, and do not ask in return. 
Perhaps you will think I have no right to make such a bold 
demand. But I do not deny that I am selfish as regards 
you; and you have so high an opinion of me, that I confess 
I wish to bring it down a little. 

You ask me, dear Charlotte, whether you should live in 
Giittingen or Brunswick, and say you will do nothing with- 
out my approbation. Now this is touching me on my weak 
side, for it is always very gratifying to me when any one 
follows my advice. I think, then, that you should go to 
Gottingen, and this not out of deference for you and because 
you prefer it, but because I like it better. You will think 
this very extraordinary, nor will you be able to guess my 
meaning; — even I cannot rightly explain it. But such is 
my wish, were it for no other reason than that I saw you 
when I lived at Gottingen, and often thought of you there, 
but did not know you when I was at Brunswick. Altogether, 
I like Gottingen, because I lived there in solitude at a time 
when solitude is improving. Greet the ramparts heartily for 
me. Write to me when you get there, and tell me all about 
the people. 

And now, farewell, dear lady, and do not estrange your- 
self from me again. Ours is a most extraordinary tie. Two 
persons, who met only for three days, many years ago, and 
can scarcely hope to see each other again ! But there are 

* Tliis could only be in an album leaf. 

D 2 

30 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

so few deep and pure joys of a like nature, I would be 
ashamed to withhold the confession that your image from 
that time even until now, has been connected in my mind 
with all the feelings of my youth, with the times, and also 
with a brighter and more simple state of things than the 
present, both as regards Germany and the whole world. I 
have, besides all this, a great love for the past, which alone 
is eternal and unchangeable like death, and yet at the same 
time warm and joy-giving like life. With these unchange- 
able sentiments, yours, H. 



BuRGORNEK, April 1822. 

It is very long since I have had any intelligence from 
you; and I am sorry, indeed it pains me much, that I am so 
entirely forgotten by you, of whom I so often think. Write 
to me, dear Charlotte, as soon as you receive these few lines, 
and tell me how you have been going on, and how it fares 
with you nowl I have long meditated writing to you, and 
begging for some intelligence. Perhaps I myself am the 
cause of your silence. My short letters may have repelled 
you, or you may be apprehensive of becoming burdensome 
to me. Address your letters to Burgorner near Eisleben, 
where I am residing at one of the properties belonging to 
my wife. Farewell, and let me have an immediate an- 
swer, H, 

32 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


BuRGOENER, April 1822. 
I wrote a short letter to you a few days ago, dear Char- 
lotte, and now dispatch a second. In the first place — 
because I long for a few lines from your own hand, and I am 
sorry I have been so long silent; then, also, that I may 
try another way to make it certain that my letter reaches 
you. I do not exactly know your address, nor do I even 
know whether you still live in * * *■ * . I venture, how- 
ever, confidently to hope that you have not forgotten me. 
Yours, H. 



BuRGoKNEB, May 3, 1822. 

I have received both your dear letters, dearest Charlotte, 
and write instantly, to return you my most hearty thanks. 
You have greatly delighted me by what you say, and quite 
answered all my exjoectations. I could never be mistaken 
in you, or lose faith in the constancy and fidelity of your 
sentiments and feelings. I have already told you this; — 
and it is only natural that it should be so. When any one 
has cherished for another, during so many years, and without 
having received a single token of remembrance, those deep 
feelings which bespeak a noble and tender nature, then it 
were the height of ingratitude to entertain any further 
doubts. It is certainly a rare happiness for a man when a 
woman cherishes for him the first sacred feelings of her 
youthful bosom, and I am certain that I estimate and 
prize this happiness in the manner it deserves. But I say 
without pride, to which I am certainly not addicted, but 
also without childish modesty, that I might be the medium 
of imparting to you much that would enrich and enliven 
and adorn your existence. When fate has laid up so much 
in store for two beings, it must not be allowed to fade away, 
but must on the contrary be brought into accordance with 
both exterior and interior relations, because refinement of 
feeling and peace of mind can be founded on this harmony 
alone. Since, then, no personal intercourse can take place 
between us, let us begin and carry on an epistolary one. I 
am not fond of writing, and must condemn myself in the 
outset, by saying that you wiU very often have to exercise 
patience and magnanimity towards me ; but I am very fond 
of reading letters, especially yours, not only because I like 
to read what you write, but because I take the heartiest and 

34 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

liveliest interest in all that concerns you. Should I there- 
fore write seldomer, do not let that hinder you. Write to 
me always on the 15th of every month; then I shall at least 
have one day on which to rejoice. If you write to me in 
the interval, it will be an additional pleasure, and I shall 
always receive it with gratitude. 

Your having made choice of a rural life has given me the 
greatest pleasure. It is expressively characteristic of your 
tastes, and combines solitude with cheerfulness. The former 
suits your character, your feeUngs, and your condition ; the 
latter enlivens and embellishes your life. It pleases me 
much, therefore, to think of this your manner of life, and 
that you seldom go into the town. I know you cannot 
altogether avoid visits, nor would it be well to give up all 
society, especially as you tell me yours consists chiefly of 
old friends. 

I quite understand your preference for * * * * * as 
a residence, which must be connected in your mind with 
many of the bright and joyous recollections of youth, if not 
altogether free from sad ones. The surrounding country is 
also beautiful, and there is more freedom in a great city, as 
you justly remark, for every one to live according to his 
inclinations; it also offers many enjoyments, and at a more 
moderate rate, than smaller towns. I quite approve, there- 
fore, of your resolution to remain where you are. But 
above all things, in your country dv/elling, take care of your 
health. You are too silent on that subject, and yet it is on 
your peace and health and happiness that mine depend. I 
have not approached you again with any of my own selfish 
views and wishes, even although I do entertain one wish, 
which I will impart to you in my next. 

I must now conclude. For fourteen days I have not been 
at all well; suffering from a feverish cold, which is very 
troublesome to me, as I have not been sick for years. With 
the truest and most unalterable regard, yours, H. 

LETTER Vr. 35 


BuKGORNER, end of May 1822. 

I must tell you to-day, first of all, dear Charlotte, that I 
am quite well again, so that you need not be uneasy. 

Our correspondence goes on rather strangely. When it 
began, you expected to receive very few letters from me; 
and now I have to complain of your silence. You promised 
in your last letter to write to me regularly on the 15th of 
every month ; but you cannot have done so, else your letter 
would have been long ago in my hands, — and I have not, 
either on the last post-day or on this, received a single line 
from you. This makes me fear that you may be unwell; — 
and then I think of many things that may have occurred to 
prevent you. Whatever may be the reason, I am constrained 
to tell you that I long much for a letter, and have read again 
and again those 1 have of yours, and always with thankful 
remembrance of the great and long-continued kindness of 
your sentiments towards me. This may be called vanity, 
and ascribed to a feeling of satisfaction at being flattered 
and admired ; but it would be too severe a sentence, and 
certainly an unjust one as regards me, who have never been 
addicted to vanity. No one perhaps has ever judged of 
himself so impartially, or treated himself so unsparingly, — 
no one perhaps so coolly and exactly pointed out how much 
was to be deducted from the praises of others, or how much 
was censurable in what they passed over in silence. To a 
certain distrust of my own powers, and of the superiority 
sometimes attributed to me, I am chiefly indebted for my 
success in private as well as public life. I willingly confess 
that I have always laid especial value on the possession of 
those mental qualities most capable of making an impression 

36 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

on the mind of woman. But I am not so foolish as to ima- 
gine that these are in any way peculiar to myself. When 
any one becomes convinced, however, — as he must be by 
such ingenuous and natural expressions as yours, — that he 
has made a deep and lasting impression, then a double 
feeling of satisfaction is experienced, — that of conscious 
merit, and of gratification at having been understood and 
appreciated by a penetrating and superior mind. I re- 
joice, therefore, exceedingly in the renewal of our corre- 
spondence, and flatter myself also that it may be beneficial 
to you — to me it cannot be otherwise. Your image has 
accompanied me throughout a whole lifetime, as I lately 
wrote to you; beaming on me and cheering me in every 
vicissitude. When you renewed our intercourse, I was in 
more embarrassing circumstances perhaps than I had ever 
been before. These are now changed, and I have long 
meditated Avriting to you. Our correspondence having con- 
sisted for so long a pei'iod only of detached letters, it can- 
not be otherwise than that many of our ideas must have 
appeared anomalous to each other, which might easily be 
explained by a more regular and tranquil interchange of 

You remind me, dear Charlotte, what a rich treasure is 
contained in the heart of woman, and you call on me to 
have confidence in you. Be fully assured, then, that I have 
unlimited confidence in you — in your truth, your fidelity, 
and your delicacy of feeling : how otherwise Avould I write 
to you in so open and unreserved a manner? Confide in 
me also as firmly. Be assured that what you say to me in 
confidence will be held by me as sacred and silent as the 
grave. Believe me when I tell you that I have the very 
best intentions towards you ; that this has always been the 
case, and will continue to be so; — confide in me, then, even 
when you do not quite understand me. Resign into my 
hands all anxiety as to the preservation of our mutual good 
understanding, as well as for the removal of every disturb- 


ing influence. I never press any of my opinions on any 
one, least of all on you. I have a settled conviction that 
you are in no danger of misunderstanding either me or any 
of my views, — on the contrary, I know, for you have often 
repeated it in the most flattering manner, that you are not 
only willing but glad to be " corrected" by me, as you kindly 
express yourself. 

I am glad to think that you do not tell any one you 
receive letters from me. That we write to each other is of 
no consequence to the world in general ; and what is in itself 
sacred must not be made common by us. * 

Farewell, and rely implicitly on the unchangeableness of 
my sentiments. Yours, H. 

VOL. I. E 

38 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 



I have to-day, kind Charlotte, a request to make, a wish 
to express, the gratification of which Avill give me great 
pleasure, and be received with lively gratitude. It is this : 
that I might be favoured with an exact and connected 
history of your life, especially of the development and rare 
progress of your mental culture. Your former letters 
I^rompted and excited this desire, which those I am now 
receiving augment still more. This cannot be difficult to 
you, who have acquired such facility in writing. You write 
unusually well — with ease, fluency, and absence of affecta- 
tion. Your command of language is quite extraordinary. 
This is no flattery on my part; but a fact which may be 
proved by every one of your letters. 

If you are so kind as to enter into my wishes, then let it 
be done in the following manner : — Begin with the day and 
the year of yoiir birth, in chronological order and with the 
greatest minuteness. Write from memory all that you are 
able to recall, but not from fancy. Go back to your child- 
hood and youth, to your parents and grandpai'ents, to your 
ancestry, if any account of them has been preserved. I should 
like you to speak in the third person. Give to places and 
peojile and to me also, when you get so far, other names, 
only you must keep the name of Charlotte yourself I 
have this in common with Goethe, — a particular predilec- 
tion for your name. But above all, speak of yourself as of a 
third party; praise and blame yourself as if you were dealing 
out praise and blame to another. 

What I dread is that your feelings may be lacerated by 
a renewal of painful recollections, knowing as I well do 


already, that you have had much to eudure. But it will be 
a long time before you come to these. The days of child- 
hood and youth are for the most part joyous and serene ; 
certainly to you they were so, and I shall be glad to receive 
from you a picture of both. What you write shall be for 
me alone, and no other eye than mine shall rest on its pages. 
I look forward with anxiety to the answer containing your 
decision, and bid you kindly farewell. Yours, H. 

40 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 



You must have received two letters from me by this time, 
dear Charlotte, although they still remain unanswered. Both 
were written with the view of dispelling your doubts. I 
hope I have succeeded in this ; and I begin to-day by re- 
peating what I said to you in my last letter, that whatever 
you impart to me on the subject of your past life must be 
entirely dictated by your own feelings. Let it be a retro- 
spect of the past in the society of one who takes the deep- 
est interest in you, — but be it understood in the outset, 
without tearing open wounds that have been with difficulty 

I thank you heartily for the sheets you have sent me as 
specimens. The beginning of the narrative is entirely to 
my satisfaction, only some parts I should have wished to 
have had more in detail. Do not be disturbed by any fear 
that you can be too diffuse, and never fancy you are dwelling 
too long on any point. We have both of us a long time 
to live yet, although you have longer than I. Your de- 
scription of the parental dwelling, amiable child, is highly 
interesting to me; and you have again vei'ified what I al- 
ways told you, that you write extremely well, and make 
your recital in a graceful, simple, and natural manner. Go 
on as you have begun, and if at any time it becomes burden- 
some to you, or makes inroads on your time, just think of 
the pleasure you are imparting to me. Life is to a certain 
extent expanded and prolonged, when one has before him 
such speaking pictures of a time when he lived in very dif- 
ferent places, and was bound by very different ties; and 
there is, after all, nothing so interesting to men as man. 


We feel as if we could never see and hear enough. New 
ideas arise at the sight of every ."new countenance. When the 
descriptions given are very distinct and detailed, then forms 
arise, and move as it Avere before the mind, and we Hve on 
with them as if they had an actual existence. This pro- 
pensity to take delight in human forms, to live on with them 
as if they were present with us, is in strict accordance with 
the most decided inclination towards solitude. But as soon 
as we must hold intercourse with men, or rather as soon as 
we take pleasure in doing so, we find so many calls on us 
for action and for the vindication of our own claims, that 
we become abstracted from the pure spirit of contemplation. 
But if, with an inclination to solitude, we yet must live 
among men, which sometimes cannot be avoided, then they 
pass before us like pictures to be contemplated, and we fix 
our attention on them and not on ourselves. What effect 
we have on them, and how we succeed in pleasing them, is 
very indifferent to us, if we only consider them in their own 
proper sphere. Then when we return again into actual 
solitude, we have many images around us ; and if we are 
inclined towards mental occupations, or have them imposed 
on us, then ideal men arise in fancy out of the real, to whom 
the real only serve as a foundation on which to place the 
picture. All questions of morality, all the deeper meditations 
on life and its aims, on happiness and perfectibility, on a 
present and a future existence, possess a richer interest, and 
permit of a greater variety of applications, when one may 
try them, as it were, by so many individual human tests. 
For there lies deeply concealed within every man, however 
insignificant, another and quite difierent existence, which 
is higher and nobler even when he seems not to be in 
reality good for much, but still nobler when he is in himself 
estimable. We have only to accustom ourselves to study 
this double existence of man, and from a flimsy everyday 
life, we arrive at an incomparably higher and more en- 

E 2 

42 w, VON Humboldt's letters. 

larged view of mankind in general. It is, indeed, properly- 
speaking, this expansive view which puts the stamp on every 
great poet : to him alone belongs the power of freely and 
clearly depicting, or rather of bringing to light the causes 
of events which follow each other in succession, and which 
seem to be the result of accident alone. Something similar 
runs through history. In it human nature comes more 
clearly and prominently forward, than in the thousand-fold 
petty associations of the present. The addition of one in- 
teresting character to those already occupying our imagina- 
tion is a ffain for life ; and states and times and countries 
are not unfrequently connected in our minds with the in- 
dividual. I have always, for example, had a decided liking 
to country clergymen, and a kind of romantic feeling towards 
their daughters. This was already the case with me before 
I saw you, but the feehng was greatly increased by our 
intercourse, although you still continue to be the only one 
who ever made an impression on me. I have ascribed a 
larse share of all that is excellent in the German character 
to the daughters of country clergymen : deep, heart-felt sen- 
timent — simphcity joined to high cultivation — the absence 
on all points of that unpleasant affected tone which pre- 
vails in distinguished circles. I have often spoken of this, 
and then afterwards laughed at myself for deducing such 
a fine theory from one example alone, seeing I have never 
been much acquainted with any other clergyman's daughter 
than yourself. But I had, as I have told you, a preposses- 
sion of the kind, which, whenever we met, quickly attracted 
me towards you. But you disappeared from me like a 
half-seen picture, and the work of fancy only remains; — 
therefore all you now tell me of your childhood, your youth, 
and your parental dwelling, will be interesting to 
me. I shall then be able to prove whether my presenti- 
ments were well or ill-founded, and shall find myself trans- 
ported back into a world peopled by my youthful fancies. 
I now doubly regret that I did not visit you and your father 


that autumn in which I first saw you. I was at Dusseldorf 
with Jacobi, and wished to go from thence to you ; but he 
detained me too long, and I was obliged to hasten back to 
GiJttingen. One has often in youth a rigid sense of duty. 
For the sake of another hour or two at college I neglected 
an opportunity, which never occurred again, of imprint- 
ing on my mind a lively image of your parental dwelling, 
of yourself, and everything connected with your manner 

of life. 

I said in the beginning of this letter that you had not 

been circumstantial enough. Now you will laugh at this, as 
you seem to think you have gone over a strange medley of 
all sorts of things. But still it is so. What I mean is this, 
that your descriptions should be still more circumstantial 
and contain fuller traits of surrounding objects. You must 
reply with minuteness to the question I am now about to put 
to you, and that in one of your next letters, and on a separate 
sheet. What was your mother's personal appearance? That 
may easily be described, and still you have not yet done so. 
You must in the same manner describe all those who appear 
often or much in your narrative. Write, therefore, very 
particularly, whatever you remember of your mother's form 
and features. Then you have certainly not described mi- 
nutely enough the interior of your father's house ; its situa- 
tion and locality ; the surrounding objects, such as gardens 
and neighbouring houses ; whether the country was pleasant 
— whether you looked out on green fields or had an ex- 
tensive view ; there is not a word of this in your narrative, 
and yet all these are most essential circumstances. Remedy 
this, I pray you, and give me such a description as may 
enable me to make a distinct sketch from it. You must 
gratify this wish of mine, otherwise everything becomes as 
a floating fancy, and even thoughts and feelings lose much 
in their extent and capacity. 

You will think me very troublesome with my requests, 
but you have consented in the outset to fulfil them. 

44 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

I am hei-e alone, but will not remain long. Address, 
however, your next letter to this ; it may probably find me 
here ; but if not, it will be forwarded to BerUn, whither I 
am about to return. You remember well — Burgiirner, near 
Hettstadt. Farewell, dearest Charlotte. With unchange- 
able regard, yours, H. 




Tegel, July 10, 1822. 

I think I have already requested you, when my letters 
are dated as above, to address yours to Berlin, where they 
are more certain to reach me. It was here I spent my 
childhood and a great part of my yovith, and I love Tegel 
very much. The country is by far the prettiest round Ber- 
lin; — on one side, an extensive wood; on the other, hills 
covered with fine plantations, from which there is a view of 
an extensive lake, intersected by several islands. Surround- 
ing the house, and almost all around, are tall trees, which 
were of very moderate size in my childhood, but have grown 
up with me. I am now occupied in building a new house, 
which is already half finished, and we intend i-emoving our 
pictures and marble ornaments here, — after which it will 
be such a pleasant abode, that I shall seldom go into the 

I received both your dear letters here, and heartily thank 
you for them. I did not immediately reply to the first, in 
which you beg me so earnestly to write to you instantly, 
because I knew you must have received one from me before 

You have no reason to fear my blaming your love of 
solitude, or that I would wish to limit it. Your old paternal 
friend E., however, has been very kindly anxious on the 
subject, and in thinking over what would best promote your 
happiness, has come to the conclusion that a more social 
manner of fife would be pleasanter for you. Now, I do not 
think so at all ; but even if I did, my decision would still 
be in favour of solitude. It has always been my way (but 
I take no credit for it), not only with myself (for that might 

46 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

pass) but also with others, to look much less to their hap- 
piness and their present enjoyment, than to what they are 
in themselves — to their peculiar bent and disposition of 
mind. Where there is a love of solitude, then the mind 
has already assumed an elevated character, and it becomes 
still more so when the taste is indulged in : but the same 
would come by degrees to be the result, even where there 
is no natural love of solitude, but where violence is done to 
nature by continuing in it. This is my theory in most 

I have been much pleased with your detailed account of 
the rivulet which flows past your house and garden, and the 
path alongside of it. It is these little particulars that give 
a distinct notion of the situation and appearance of a place. 
Will you kindly think of me, dear Charlotte, when you 
wander by the side of your rivulet ? 

I am much obliged to you for the treatise you sent me 
in reply to my question : it has interested me exceedingly ; 
for although you say it was not originally intended for me, 
one part seems applicable to myself. I like to know the 
views entertained by any one at diiFerent times of life, not 
only on writings, but on general subjects, for Avith many 
striking points of similarity, they must yet be very va- 
rious. Such opinions must contain much that is one-sided, 
and even unjust; — but then they are genuine and natural, 
and as such attractive, because we thus obtain glances of 
the individual himself; they are also in the highest degree 
instructive to those who take a different view themselves, 
who are accustomed to measure the value, the eiFect, and 
the operation of things by a general standard, and to judge 
of everything in connection Avith character, manner of 
thinking, education, and outward circumstances. We must 
always treat individual opinion with respect, even when we 
cannot agree with it. — What you say of myself is very ami- 
able and kind, — and I must also be allowed to add mv own 
testimony to its truth, for I am indeed quite incapable of 


ever forgetting or giving up any one with whom I have 
been intimate; — on the contrary, my custom is to follow 
out every trace remaining of the past. All ties of this sort, 
yea even every accidental meeting, connect so many things 
together in one, and life is such a piece of fragment and 
patchwork, that we can never sufficiently strive to join the 
connecting links more and more firmly to each other. It is 
certainly by this means that those who are in such wise 
remembered, yet retain somewhat corresponding with the 
image which still lives in the mind. But even when it is 
otherwise (and I have met with instances of the sort in my 
life), and when such persons again cross my path, I still 
take delight in studying their character and their aims, but 
without manifesting any further interest in them. With 
you, however, the case is veiy different : you have faithfully 
cherished the remembrance of me for many long years, with- 
out receiving from me a single token of remembrance. You 
take delight in dwelling much with me in thought, and you 
never make any claim or demand on me that I do not will- 
ingly and joyfully accede to. 

You ask me again if you may keep my letters. Dear 
Charlotte, I have a great dislike to old letters, for even if 
they do not contain a single word which could in the 
smallest degree injure any human being, still I am a great 
enemy to the system of hoarding. A letter is a conversation 
between the absent and the present ; its destiny is fleeting, 
and it should pass away like the sound of the voice; — the 
impression produced on the mind is intended to remain till 
it is strengthened or changed by a second and a third, and 
so on. But you lay so much value on the thing, and en- 
force your request with so much earnestness, that I cannot 
persist in my i-efusal. You may keep them, therefore, for 
the future. It is exceedingly kind and good of you to say 
that you find whatever you need contained in them. I 
never write a line I am not able and ready to defend ; it is 

48 w. VON Humboldt's letters, 

not for me therefore to be uneasy as to the fate of my 
letters. This, therefore, was not my reason for begging 
you to burn my letters, but what I have told you above, 
that I have a dislike to the hoarding of letters in general. 
I have no taste for reading old letters myself 3 — I should 
have thought it more natural for the thoughts to be occupied 
with a beloved object, and that letters lost their vitahty 
when not direct from the hand we love. With you it is 
different : so keep the letters from henceforth. It gives me 
pleasure to accede to any request of yours, for you so very 
seldom express one. Now farewell, dearest Charlotte, and 
let your thoughts dwell much with me, for mine often share 
your loneliness. Yours, H. 

You seem to be astonished that in the midst of so many 
distracting affairs I still take delight in occupying myself 
with matters of taste and sentiment, in which you are 
pleased to say I show liberality and tenderness, together 
with a large allowance for different dispositions of mind and 
ways of thinking. This arises probably from the fact that 
such is by nature the quality of my own mind, and that it 
has always been my practice not to allow myself to be 
engrossed by matters of business, but on the contrary have 
regarded them as subordinate, and treated them as a se- 
condary consideration, in comparison with the higher and 
more real existence within. They are only so much the bet- 
ter performed, however, notwithstanding. All that concerns 
man as a human being, the feelings by which he is actuated 
and which groan and strive within him for utterance, have 
always possessed an engrossing interest for me. I began at 
first by seeking to know and govern myself, and no one can 
know himself better, or have more self-command, than I. 
I have always striven after two things : to be susceptible of 
all the pleasures of life, and yet to be entirely independent 
of those I could not procure for myself; to ask nothing from 
any one, to be independent even of fortune's favours, to 


depend on no one but myself, and to have happiness in and 
through myself alone. I have attained both in a high de- 
gree. I have never been carried away by what are called 
the pleasures and enjoyments of life. The simplest thing 
gives me pleasure, if calculated to enliven and improve, or 
if it be in any respect congenial to my own disposition. 
Therefore no one is so thankful as I, because in reality few 
have so much cause for thankfulness. But no one perhaps 
has so few wants — and therein Hes great part of my happi- 
ness; for every desire, when satisfied, is, properly speaking, 
only an alleviation of pain ; and all the trouble thus expended 
must be deducted from pure and peaceful enjoyment. 

The capability of subjecting ourselves to the wiU of 
another, just because it is such, and that it is against our 
inclinations we are obliged so to subject ourselves, is what 
every one stands in need of, even man himself; and I would 
not be satisfied did I not know that I possessed it. More- 
over by this power the mind is mellowed, and yet becomes 
at the same time, for as strange as it may appear, stronger, 
more independent, and worthier of freedom. 


No human lot, not even the happiest, is free from 
struggles and privations ; for true happiness is only attained 
when by the government of the mind and feelings we 
become independent of all the vicissitudes of life. 


50 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Btjugoknek, July 1822. 

I have received two very dear letters from you, one 
immediately after the other, dear Charlotte. They have 
given me the truest and liveliest pleasure; — I thank you 
for them from my very heart, and deeply feel the kindness 
and love you so constantly and ingenuously show towards 
me ; and in spite of my conviction that you speak of me 
exactly as you think, but not as I am in reality, still it gives 
me pleasure, even although I must deduct much from your 
kind and liberal additions, and set them down as the con- 
sequence and proof of your own warmth of feeling. 

Your recollections of Pyi'mont have given me great plea- 
sure ; I also retain many — very many, from that time even 
until now. I still remember many of the conversations 
which passed between us. There existed at that time and 
in that country a difference of opinion on many subjects, 
such as on fiction and on the formation of character, which 
in those days were closely connected with each other. One 
party favoured Klopstock, Stolberg, and those poets and 
dramatic writers the tendency of whose works was less ec- 
centric and exciting; the other was in favour of Goethe, 
Schiller (who at that time had published some of his first 
pieces, such as the Rollers and Fiesco), and everything that 
was lawless and eccentric. I was as yet quite undecided. 
You appeared to me" to lean towards the former, for I re- 
member well you did not like Schiller's pieces. All this has 
dwelt in my memory, and appears remarkable to me to this 
day, because since then, even in deeper and more important 
matters, a more decided change has taken place in what 
cannot be called a great lapse of time, than could in those 


days have been predicted. It is therefore particularly agree- 
able to me, dear Charlotte, that in the continuation of the 
history of your Hfe you should dwell much and long on 
the period of your youth. I also wish to know more parti- 
cularly what were the books by means of which you so early 
arrived at such a high state of cultivation and tone of mind, 
and how and by what these have been so strengthened and 
confirmed in later years. I repeat again, you cannot dwell 
long enough on all these particulars. 

I am not quite at one with you in what you say as to 
treating every one according to his character. I always do 
so, — partly because it is the easiest way of attaining one's 
end; also because it is not my province to influence the 
minds of men against their will ; and finally, because they 
are thus made happier and moi-e tranquil, and it is natural 
to desire to see happiness and tranquillity prevailing around 
us. But as for myself, I always wish and do all in my 
power to prevent others from adapting themselves to my 
character. For what is that but coming to the conclusion 
that the character is confirmed and unchangeable, and there- 
by strengthening it in all its points'? Now, as no human 
character is free from faults, this is just the way to perpe- 
tuate those faults. I know well that I have often been 
deeply wounded by being treated contrary to my nature 
and disposition ; but such inward mortifications are always 
wholesome, — and true happiness does not depend on free- 
dom from pain. Just in proportion as those who are on 
confidential terms with me give me to understand that they 
accustom themselves to steady endurance and self-denial, 
and do not murmur at wholesome sufferings, I treat them 
accordingly ; and thus I may often appear to show least for- 
bearance towards those with whom I am most intimately 

I am sorry to observe, by some of your expressions, that 
you have been suffering from illness, and fear you may per- 
haps not yet be recovered. Take care of yourself, dear, good 

52 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

Charlotte — take care of yourself for my sake, and consider 
how deeply it grieves me to know you are suffering. Women 
are more fortunate and yet more unfortunate than men in 
this respect, that the greater part of their occupations are 
of such a nature that they can at the same time think of 
quite different things. I call this fortunate, for one can thus 
almost the whole day long pursue a train of deep thought 
with no interruption to work or loss of any kind. This is 
without doubt one of the chief reasons why women excel 
men in eveiything which leads to deeper and more subtile 
knowledge of ourselves and others. But when, on the other 
hand, these thoughts are not of a happy nature, or at least 
not in a pure and unmixed degree, but partly depressing 
and disquieting, then the danger is certainly greater and 
more destructive of inward peace; whereas men, in their 
business -itself, and even against their will, find abstraction 
and relief from inward troubles and vexations. 

Never imagine for an instant that your decided predilec- 
tion for the lonely stillness you have, as it were, created 
around you, could be displeasing to me : quite the contrary. 
The drawing of your country-house and garden, contained in 
your last letter, has pleased me much ; for we like to be able 
to picture to ourselves everything connected with those we 
love. It is a matter of no consequence what you tell me 
as to E.'s fears lest you should become one-sided by living 
in such seclusion. There is nothing at aU to be apprehended 
for you on this score; — on the contrary, one may become 
dumb in great measure, without being inwardly impover- 
ished, or becoming insensible to the true, the good, and the 


Retirement expands all the deep and tender powers that 
lie in the mind of woman, purifies her soul, and weans her 
from those petty disquieting views of things, on which 
women are more apt to wreck themselves than men. Once 
convince a woman, who loves to live in solitude, that she 


need seek for no other pleasures than those she may draw 
from the depths of her own being, and this is the chief re- 
quisite for pleasing a man of even deeper and better regu- 
lated feelings than her own, and of exciting an unceasing 
and enduring interest. 


There are very few who understand the value of solitude, 
and how many advantages it oflFers, especially to a woman. 
If married and surrounded by children, then her family 
circle forms her solitude ; but in the opposite case, solitude 
becomes absolute, and the loneliness in which one lives is 
seldom interrupted by the sight of man. 


Happiness passes away, leaving hardly a single trace be- 
hind, and can often indeed scarcely be called happiness, 
seeing nothing lasting has been gained by it. Unhappiness 
also passes away (and that is a great consolation), but leaves 
deep traces behind, and, if Ave know how to improve them, 
most wholesome ones, purifying and strengthening, and 
frequently productive of the highest happiness. Then in 
life it is worthy of peculiar remark, that when we are not 
too solicitous as to happiness or the want of it, but devote 
ourselves to the strict and unspai'ing fulfilment of duty, then 
happiness comes of itself, — yea, even arises from a life of 
troubles and anxieties and privations. I have often seen 
this verified in the case of women who were very unfor- 
tunate in their conjugal relations, but who would rather 
have perished than dreamt of forsaking their duty. Fare- 
well. — Yours, H. 

F 2 

54 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, Dec. % 1822. 

I have received your letter, dear Charlotte, and thank 
you for it -with my whole heart. It is one of the greatest 
pleasures of my life to receive intelligence from you, and 
the greater the proofs therein contained of the warmth and 
truth of your attachment, so much the deeper is the im- 
pression made on me by every line you trace. The remem- 
brance of the past is thus added to the enjoyment of the . 
present, and I consider it one of the most fortunate circum- 
stances of my life that you have preserved the remembrance 
of me, and that, since fate has now brought us nearer to 
each other, you still continue to value my sympathy, to 
enter into my views, and to look upon it as fortunate, yea 
even to impute it to me as a merit, that I still cherish 
sentiments which can only cease with my life. Such praise 
might well make me proud, only I have no inclination that 
way. I know my own faults and weaknesses better than 
any one else, and hold that it cannot be called a merit, 
when one has once been favoured by fortune to behold all 
that is truly excellent and pure, and to feel that such a rare 
gift has been in reality presented to him, that he should 
keep it closely locked in the depths of his soul, and never 
again suffer it to be torn away from him. Just such a gift 
of fortune do I consider my first meeting with you, — and 
now also the continuance of your faithful attachment, the 
pleasure you take in being guided by me, and your kind- 
ness in permitting me to write to you in so confidential a 
manner. I have received from nature v/hat I hold to be 
one of her most beneficent gifts, a disposition fearless of 
misfortune; and even when I have sometimes been called 


upon to meet it in some of its severest forms, I have only 
regarded it as a grave but not an inimical companion. On 
the other hand, I have gratefully enjoyed happiness as an 
infinite treasure ; I mean pure happiness properly so called; 
that which is sent us by the gods, independent of any merit 
of ours, and without the smallest appearance of agency on 
the part of man. Of such a nature was my happiness in 
meeting with you, for I have now an image of you ever 
present with me, which can in nowise disturb or destroy 
my peace. For even if it were possible that anything could 
occur from which I should be obliged to dissent, stUl that 
image would remain pure and inviolate within me : such a 
contingency, to which every human being is exposed, would 
not be interwoven with the features which compose the 
outline of the image; — for every one, however good, must 
sometimes be untrue to his better self, and we must attach 
ourselves to this inner and less changeable, and not to the 
changeable and every-day self, must go back from the one 
to the other, and pardon many things of which that higher 
and nobler self is innocent. I could certainly never have 
anticipated what a treasure of love and fidelity you have 
proved to me throughout a lifetime. How could it do 
otherwise than bless me ! The more I become acquainted, 
from the narrative of your life, with the associations which 
surrounded you in your youth, the more I fancy myself 
present among them — the more varied and lively are the 
features of the scene which hovers before me, and on which 
my imagination delights to dwell. I consider such enjoy- 
ments of the fancy to be among the highest within the 
reach of man, and in many respects I prefer them to those 
which are real. The latter are always exposed to disturbing 
influences; but the former, being only perceptible to the 
mind's eye, are among the purest and most elevating that 
have ever been vouchsafed to man. In these to live is true 
enjoyment, true happiness, and that of a nature into which 
no mixture of sadness can ever enter. But there are few, 

50 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

strictly speaking, whose tastes are so directed; for the 
first requisite is a love of contemplation, which we look for 
in vain among those addicted to the pleasures of sense, and 
whose nature is ever leading them to the pursuit of the sen- 
sual. I have been, throughout my whole life, entirely free 
from such desires, and have therefore had all the more 
enjoyment in the study of things external as well as in- 
ternal, and have been able to distinguish the true from the 
false in both cases, without being carried away by delusions 
of any kind. 

You asked me a long time ago, dear Charlotte, to give 
you some account of my own family; you now gently recur 
to the subject, and renew your request in such a kind and 
earnest manner, that I quite reproach myself for my tardi- 
ness. You say that the near relatives of beloved objects 
are to women infinitely dear and sacred ; that the children 
are regarded as part of his existence; and that on the 
companion of his life and the mother of his children is 
bestowed a depth of tenderness in proportion as she is the 
means of promoting his happiness. Knowing well how to 
estimate the noble source from which such expressions 
spring, I thank you for them with all my heart. I have 
delayed complying with your request from one letter to 
another, only because I generally reached the last word of 
a page, and had exhausted my last leisure moment before I 
arrived at the subject. — I shall begin with my wife, as I do 
not exactly recollect whether you know Avho she is. If I 
tell you anything, therefore, Avith which you are already 
acquainted, do not be displeased with me on that account. 
She was a Friiulein von Dacheroden, — very beautiful in her 
youth; and although she has had eight children, her con- 
stitution is much sounder than those of many women who 
have been less tried. She has been delicate for some time, 
but not so as to cause uneasiness, or disturb her natural 
cheerfulness. Burgorner is one of her properties; Tegel 


and those in Silesia belong to me. Our marriage was one 
of mutual inclination, and arranged without interference on 
the part of parents and relatives. We have now been 
married for thirty-one years, and she has never known a 
moment of dissatisfaction: our happiness is as complete 
now as at the first, although it has by degrees assumed that 
colour which lapse of time never fails to impart. Both being 
by nature lively, our connection has preserved more of a 
youthful character than might otherwise have been the 
case. My affairs often kept us separate from each other, 
but since I have enjoyed free leisure, we have lived together 
without interruption, to ensure a continuance of which is 
my chief motive for wishing not to enter service again, if I 
can possibly avoid it. After my marriage I lived free from 
official employment for more than ten years, during which 
I travelled to France and Spain with my wife. I now 
scarcely ever put my foot within the streets of the city, and 
even seldom drive. We either take walks together in the 
country, or both remain at home. Of our eight children 
we have, alas! lost three — one in Paris, and two in Rome 
while I was ambassador there. We have now three daughters 
and two sons remaining. Our eldest daughter does not wish 
to marry, but prefers remaining with us ; and we should 
certainly be very unwilling to part with her after she has 
been so long with us. Both my other daughters are married. 
The second married before she was fifteen, and her husband 
was engaged in the war. He is now Lieutenant-colonel von 
Hedemann, and they live very happily together. The youngest 
is married to the Privy-councillor von Biilow, who was with 
me in London as Secretary of Legation, but is now here in 
the Foreign Department. She has one daughter, who will 
soon be a year old, and is also very happy in her domestic 
relations. My youngest son is still at home and is educated 
under my own eye. The eldest is a cavalry officer in Breslau, 
and is married to a beautiful and amiable woman ; but alas ! 
she has as yet no children. You now know, at least on the 

58 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

whole, as much as may enable you to picture to yourself my 
family, and my manner of life among them. I see very few 
people beyond my own circle, and seldom go anywhere, ex- 
cept to visit some old acquaintance. 

I must conclude, for my paper is exhausted. Farewell, 
dear Charlotte. With the most unchangeable and warmest 
attachment, yours, H. 



Berlin, Dec. 27, 1822, 

I sit down with the greatest delight to reply to your 
two letters, both of which ai*e very dear to me, as is indeed 
everything which comes from you. I am sorry my unusually 
long silence should have caused you a moment's uneasiness, 
although to this circumstance I am indebted for another 
letter from you. You must never be uneasy, however, when 
I am at any time longer of writing than you think I meant 
to be. I am so seldom sick, that this can never be taken 
into account ; and as for any change in my sentiments, of 
however slight a nature, that is indeed impossible. Such a 
thing is contrary to my character in general, and still more 
contrary to the sentiments I have always entertained toward.? 
you ; and in a word, cannot happen. That I sometimes write 
seldomei*, however, arises from quite accidental causes, over 
which I have no control. Although I have now no business 
propei-ly so called, yet I am more occupied than most men 
who are loaded with business ; and I by no means live, as 
many others do, in a manner which permits of the indul- 
gence of my own pleasures and fancies. My time is regu- 
larly occupied from morning till night : excepting during 
dinner, I spend only about two hours in the evening with 
my family, and never go to bed before one. I scarcely ever 
go into society, bvit pass the greater part of my life in 
my own room, surrounded with books and papers. Since I 
left the service, I have led entirely the life of a student, 
and have undertaken extensive scientific inquiries; — hence 
it arises that there is sometimes a cessation in my corre- 
spondence, — less so, however, with you than with any one 
else. Indeed I am often astonished at myself that I write so 


often to you, and at such length ; and then again it seems 
so natural, because I can indulge myself by imparting my 
thoughts to you without reserve, and this calls forth letters 
from you in reply, such as I take delight in reading, how- 
ever long they may be. For I have always time for read- 
ing, which neither requires the same resolution as writing, 
nor makes so great a demand on our time. One can think 
also at any time, but cannot always be in a humour for 
writing, and I could not lay such a restraint on myself. I 
condemned myself in the outset, dear Charlotte, by telling 
you that I was a very irregular correspondent, and you see 
now that I only spoke the truth. 

I am glad you are pleased with the short account I gave 
you of my family, although you add — " If I may be per- 
mitted to express a wish that your account had been more 
circumstantial, still I rejoice in having been made somewhat 
acquainted Avith those dear to you, and am content." That 
is spoken quite like yourself; but in according all due praise 
on this point, I must chide you at the same time for the 
anxiety you manifest lest you should have gone too far in 
the expression of your feelings. Your autobiography is 
written for me alone. You have honestly and ingenuously 
revealed to me everything connected with the first sensations 
of your youthful heart ; you have cherished the same feel- 
ings for me with unwearied constancy throughout a whole 
lifetime, and held the remembrance of me sacred, without 
receiving the smallest token from me. You had nothing 
of mine but a few lines on a small scrap of paper. This 
is surely enough to touch the heart of any man. All who 
know, as I may venture to say I do, how to estimate such 
rare happiness, must certainly regard it as an additional 
gift from Heaven. No reproach, however slight, or with 
the smallest appearance of justice, could full on you, nor 
could any judgment, however cold or severe, find anything 
here to censure. You will see by all this that I am deter- 
mined nothing shall ever again wrest from me that which 


you have yourself voluntarily bestowed. No trifling scruple 
on your part shall ever rob me of my cherished possession. 
If I err, my heart at least does not err. I have never im- 
bibed the narrow-minded notions with regard to feelings of 
duty which are cun-ent among many. Where there is in- 
ward purity, no feeling interferes with another — no duty is 
violated; at least I know such to be my own case, though 
I cannot answer for the consciences of others ; and I have 
therefore always yielded without solicitude and without dis- 
guise to every genuine feeling which arose within me. So 
you see I am resolved, as I have already said, to keep what 
I have got. 

Had it not been your express desire that I should give 
you some account of my domestic life, which seemed indeed 
very natural on your part, I would rather have been si- 
lent on everything connected with such intimate ties, and 
the feelings arising therefrom in a family circle. 

But I must again repeat, dear Charlotte, that it is my 
desire you should not wish to recaU a single word of what 
you have written to me, for your feelings are so clearly and 
faithfully mirrored therein, that I am gladdened by the re- 
membrance. I wish above all things that your correspond- 
ence with me should bring to you nothing but pure and 
untroubled joy. I have no other end in view as regards 
myself, than to perpetuate those recollections which wiU ever 
be dear to me, and at the same time thereby to impart 
pleasure to you. 

You must not be surprised that I was so long of giving 
you the information you desired ; — I only gave it because you 
wished it. It has never been my custom to speak to one 
person of the feelings I entertain towards another; — on the 
contrary, it is qviite opposed to my principles. I know weU it 
is generally regarded as a token and a necessary accompani- 
ment of friendship, mutually to impart every joy and sorrow, 
— to withhold nothing indeed, but to live in each other, as 
it is called. But my heart might be depressed with sorrow 

VOL. I. G 

62 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

or elated with joy, without my feeUng any necessity to im- 
part it even to those who are dearest to me. Indeed I never 
do so, unless other reasons caU for a disclosure. I attach 
but little importance to the events of life; — happiness or 
unhappiness, so far as I myself am concerned (God knows 
it is otherwise in relation to others), form the last motives 
which influence my thoughts and actions. Thank God, with 
those whom I love like yourself, I can always find far bet- 
ter subjects for conversation than the passing events of the 
day. I act in the same way towards my wife and children. 
- They know nothing at all of the gi'eater part of my affairs, 
and my wife is so entirely of my opinion on this subject, that 
if she accidentally hears anything she did not know before, 
or of which I myself have occasion to sj^eak, it never occurs 
to her to see anything strange in it. Friendship and love 
demand the fullest and most entire trust ; but magnanimous 
souls stand in no need of confidence. Farewell. With un- 
changeable regard, yours, H. 



Berlin, Feb. 14, 1823. 

You are quite silent, dear Charlotte : it is unusually long 
since I last received a line from you. For these eight days 
past I have wished to write and entreat you to break this 
silence, but I delayed, in the hope that every post-day 
would have brought me a letter. What if you were ill ! 
but then I thought, surely you woiild have written, were it 
only to say thus much. But you were much agitated; — 
you had greatly exerted yourself: combined with this, there 
is the cold weather which now prevails; — all this may 
indeed have injured your health. I earnestly beg you to 
write and inform me how you are. I shall indeed be very 
uneasy if I still receive no letter from you. 

I am quite well, but very busy. My brother has been 
with me for four weeks, but has now returned to Paris. 
During his stay, evei-ything was laid aside, and I have 
therefore such an accumulation of business before me, that 
it wiU be some weeks before I can bring up all my arrears. 
Pardon, therefore, the shortness of this. Since you like 
to have long letters from me, my last must certainly have 
pleased you, for it filled the whole sheet, which is a great 
deal, when the handwriting is so small as mine. Farewell, 
and write immediately, I pray you. — With heartfelt and 
unchangeable regard, yours, H. 

64 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, March 14, 1823. 

I have received your letters and their enclosures, dear 
Charlotte, and most heartily do I thank you for them. No 
one could have arranged in a more orderly manner than 
you have done, this second part of the narrative of your 
life. You caU them introductory numbers, which will be 
quite exjDlained in the sequel, as all your thoughts are dis- 
tinguished by clearness. It may be read as easily and with as 
little effort as a book ; and your plan of dividing the whole 
into parts, each comprising a distinct and connected section, 
is particularly judicious, and gives greater facility in deci- 
phering manuscript. I think it will be better, therefore, 
that you should not in future, as I at first proposed, confine 
yourself to any particular period of time, but give to each 
part a section suitable to its contents, so that it may neither 
be too short nor too long, and then send off each part when 
you have it ready, without giving yourself any trouble about 
the contents being confined to one particular period of 
time. I know, on the one hand, that you take sidficient 
interest in the thing, and are so kindly desirous of pleasing 
me, that you willingly enter into my wishes ; and you may 
thus be induced to employ much of your leisure time on 
this Avork which you might well devote to other necessary 
objects. On the other hand, I would never wish so to oc- 
cupy your time as to withdraw yourself from duties that it 
is incumbent upon you to perform, which would have the 
effect of making greater demands on you for exertion, in 
order to make up for lost time. In everything I propose to 
you, my desire is to add to your pleasure and satisfaction, 
never to impose any burden on you, or cause you uneasiness. 


I am alarmed, however, to find by what you have sent, 
that your narrative is already so far advanced. This will 
convince you, as I have always said, that your fears lest, 
entering so minutely into detail, you should never be able 
to accomplish your undertaking, were perfectly ground- 
less. Whilst at the same time I cannot complain of any 
want of copiousness, I willingly believe — indeed the nai'- 
rative itself convinces me — that nothing further presented 
itself to your memory on the subjects of which you treat. 
You have overlooked nothing ; all the pei'sons you mention 
are so fully delineated, and with such vivid touches, that 
one feels as if well acquainted with them; and no breach 
is made in the picture by the omission of a single trait. 
Your two grandmothers are interesting characters. I am 
much inclined to trace a resemblance between you and 
them; — they were certainly most superior women. It is 
quite natural to suppose that such a simple manner of life 
should offer nothing more in the way of variety of incident 
worthy of delineation ; I therefore quite understand how 
it did not occur to you before to look so far back into 
the past. Your having now done so, kind Charlotte, 
shows me that you take great pleasure in gratifying me, 
— and I am truly grateful. It is just because of the 
simplicity of such a life that your narrative has so great a 
charm for me, corresponding as it does with my own par- 
ticular tastes and feelings, — a charm of which I have been 
more than ever conscious on reading these pages. I must 
also be permitted to praise this part more than the pre- 
ceding, because the narrative proceeds in a more easy 
uninterrupted manner, and in a peculiarly pictorial strain. 
For, much as I liked to read the remarks you formerly 
interspersed in your narrative, still the great charm ought 
to consist solely in what is narrated, and in presenting to 
the eye a moving picture of scenes and events long since 
gone by, without any interruption on the part of the 
narrator. In the present case, you are in your own person 

G 2 


both the narrator and the subject of the narrative ; but the 
difference of time is so great, and so worthy of notice, that 
even when carrying on the relation, you must feel towards 
yourself, as represented in these long bypast times, to a 
certain extent as a stranger. You must not, however, con- 
clude that I am altogether averse to the introduction of 
such remarks, for that is not at all my meaning. I would 
rather applaud the style you have adopted in this part, 
than censure any other you might have seen fit to make use 
of, and to which you would doubtless have imparted a 
charm pecuharly your own. But it is reasonable to conclude 
that a narrative must be more distinct and attractive in 
proportion as the narrator keeps himself more in the back- 
ground ; — and he loses nothing by it, for we see himself and 
his individuality quite as clearly and expressively by the 
style and spirit of the narrative, and feel surprised by the 
concealed manner in which this comes to light. 

I was much pleased with the drawings you inclosed ; they 
give a reality to the scenes and the persons treated of, and 
thus contribute to the liveliness of the descriptions and the 
vividness of the pictures. There is something cheerful and 
agreeable about the outward aspect of your parental dwell- 
ing. On the occasion of your mother's death you mention, 
that although it was so dark that nothing could be distinctly 
discerned, there was yet something spirit-like around. I 
beg of you not to overlook this. If it be your intention, as 
it appears to me, to return to this subject in the sequel, 
then I am content, and shall prefer reading the detailed 
account of this circumstance at whatever part you consider 
the most suitable. If you do not mean to return to it, 
however, but intend to rest satisfied with what you have 
already said, then I must beg of you to devote to this 
subject an especial supplement in the second part, to com- 
plete it befoi'e going on with anything else, and to send it 
to me singly. This subject possesses a more than ordinary 
interest for me. 


The disaster about your present dwelling has much an- 
noyed me : you were so comfortable and retired there, and 
had, besides, arranged it so much to your entire satisfaction, 
that to be now obliged to leave it must be in the highest 
degree vexatious; and you have not only my heartiest 
sympathy, but I quite understand your state of dejection. 

It is very grateful to me to know that you feel comforted 
by my sympathy, and that you like to dwell and repose on 
the remembrance of me when in trouble, as you now are, 
dear Charlotte. It has always been my wish and desire to 
exercise a happy and wholesome influence on you, and it 
rejoices me exceedingly to know I have attained it. Permit 
me, then, now to exert this influence on your mind, — now 
when you are suffering and bowed down by sorrow. Raise 
yourself, then, by me ; for there is no one whose supporter 
I should so much wish to become. Farewell, then, for to- 
day, and allow me, in conclusion, again to beg of you to be 
comforted. Hold fast your faith in the constancy of my 
sympathy, and in the fideUty with which I am ever yours, 


68 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, March 30, 1823. 

Your letter of the 19th of this month has grieved me, 
dear Charlotte, for it was evidently written when you were 
suffering under great dejection of mind. I was glad, how- 
ever, to see that towards the end it became livelier in its 
strain, because it is a sure sign that the repose of writing, 
and the enjoyment of quiet converse with one who you feel 
assured ever takes an unceasing interest in you, had exerted 
a beneficial influence. I therefore hope you will not adhere 
to your intention of keeping silence, but will continue to 
write as formerly. That resolution, which I hold to have 
been only a passing one, must have been made in a moment 
of despondency. It is very amiable of you not to wish to 
annoy and distress me by your depression. But am I the 
less conscious of it because of your silence, or must I not 
on the contrary be made still more uneasy by being ignorant 
of its kind, colour, and degree 1 You may rest assured that 
I always take the heartiest and most sympathatic interest 
in you and all that happens to you, and that I in like man- 
ner regard as a misfortune your being obliged to give up a 
loved abode endeared to you also by the power of habit. Still 
I would wish you to show more firmness in a case like this, 
dear Charlotte — more cheerfulness and serenity, as an op- 
posing power to outward misfortunes, especially as you are 
in possession of so many inward enjoyments. In saying 
this, I do not mean to throw the slightest or most distant 
reproach on you, for I would rather do anything than cause 
you the slightest pain. But it has always been my way 
to exercise the utmost candour towards those with whom I 


am on confidential terms; to tell them, without reserve, what 
I do not approve of, and to point out the means by which, 
according to my judgment, they may attain to a greater 
degree of firmness and self-reliance, and become less de- 
pendent on outward circumstances. Do not therefore be 
displeased at what I now say to you, and may say hereafter. 
Do not look upon it as the easy talk of one who is himself 
ill a fortunate and flourishing position, and secure against 
similar misfortunes. Trials and reverses arise independently 
of outward causes, and Heaven has dealt out these to man 
so wisely, that those who are to outward appearance most 
conspicuously favoured by fortune, are not yet on that ac- 
count for one moment freer from causes of inward pain. 
During a tolerably long life, and one certainly not spent 
in circumstances free from difiiculty, many things have 
happened to me which have changed for a longer or shorter 
period everything connected with my accustomed course of 
life, touching me in the very tenderest points by thrusting 
me into circumstances in many respects repugnant to me. 
I am therefore in nowise a stranger to the feelings you now 
experience, but am every day exposed to like vicissitudes 
from the hand of fate. Neither do I misunderstand the 
nature of your feelings, because, as you justly remark, I 
cannot sympathize with the outward cause. The change of 
an abode would certainly have little influence on me, for I 
have often been obhged to change mine from the most 
agreeable to the least desirable. I live indeed entirely in 
my own room, and have not been out, for example, for the 
last eight days, in spite of the fine weather, nor gone farther 
than into the next room to join my family at the regularly 
appointed hours. I feel no wants of the kind : every room 
is the same to me ; and I need no conveniences except the 
cane chair on which I sit and the table at which I write ; — 
you would find neither mirror nor sofa, nor anything of 
the sort near me. But it is not the cause of grief, but the 
grief itself, with which we have to do ; and I only tell you, 

70 w, VON Humboldt's letters. 

in order to meet any objection that could be advanced or 
thought of, that as regards a disaster such as has now be- 
fallen you, I could not place myself in your situation. I can 
certainly do so in as far as every one who is of an excitable 
nature, and not devoid of feeling, must be subject to de- 
pressing sensations of a similar kind ; but it is just on this 
account that, profiting by my own experience, I must ear- 
nestly beg of you, dear Charlotte, not to allow yourself to 
be so entirely bowed down by this circumstance. Accord- 
ing to your own account, I cannot look upon your having 
to leave your present abode as such a grievous calamity, 
as that you have not been able to find another equally free 
and open with a garden attached to it, combining the ad- 
vantages of quiet and seclusion, with the absence of all 
fear of intrusion. I was much alarmed by what you for- 
merly told me as to the coldness of your present residence, 
and the dampness of the walls, even those of your sleeping 
apartment, which must be anything but conducive to your 
comfort. But, in spite of all that may be said on the matter, 
till you can meet with another quiet country dwelling, the 
loss you have sustained is a very great one, and can in no- 
wise be argued away. But, dear Charlotte, besides being 
called upon to bear with resignation that which is ine-vdtable, 
you have still many inward enjoyments of which nothing 
can deprive you : — the recollection of all that is dear to you, 
the society of a small congenial circle, the consciousness 
of having maintained purity of heart and mind throughout 
a chequered existence, the satisfaction of being independent 
through your own exertions ; in fine, what I may be allowed 
to add with pride, since you have so often told me so your- 
self, your intercourse with me, and the certainty that I 
heartily sympathize in all your joys and griefs. Men stand 
in need of a certain degree of firmness in all the various 
circumstances in which they are placed, even in those which 
seem the most fortunate ; and then when, perhaps to prove 
and try us, misfortunes arise such as you now experience. 


if we can only hold fast our resolution in the hour of trial, 
serenity soon returns to the mind by means of this very 
firmness itself, and the satisfaction which always springs 
from having been able to act conformably to duty. 

I often think, dear Charlotte, of what is on the whole 
exceedingly likely, that I may be very diiferent in many 
respects from what you suppose ; it cannot indeed be other- 
wise with those who have scarcely ever seen each other and 
never lived together. I wrote to you in the beginning of 
our correspondence, that you must take me as I am, for I 
could not alter my natural character nor appear in different 
colours. My sentiments in general, and towards you in 
particular, have always been the same, and wiM continue to 
be so. I cannot answer for it, however, that the expression 
of these is equally interesting and gladdening to you at all 
times. I can allow of no limitation in my freedom of wri- 
ting, either as to frequency or manner, and must therefore 
beg for indulgence when I accidentally disagree with you 
or your remarks. That I take a true interest in you, and 
feel pleasure in writing to you, must be evident enough 
if you recall what I told you from the first with my usual 
candour, that I did not like writing, and that my let- 
ters would be few and short; — and yet in reality I write a 
great deal, and sometimes very long letters, as this can 

To return to the narrative of your life. I can only repeat 
that its continuance will give me very great pleasure ; but 
I must also add, that in my request I proceed on the pre- 
supposition, not only that you do it willingly, for that I 
know already, but also that you take time and inclination 
into account, and only occupy yourself with it when both 
permit ; for I know well how conscientiously you employ 
your time, and what your opinions are on this subject, and 
you are aware how much you have gained in my estimation 
on that account. What you have said to me on the subject 
of spiritual apparitions has made me still more curious; 

72 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

and I am quite of the same opinion as your late father. 
No one can understand the secret connection of things, 
and I cannot admit of scepticism. 

Now farewell, dearest Charlotte! Strive after greater 
serenity, were it only from love to me ; for trust me, no 
one thinks of you so often or with so much pleasure as I 
do. — Yours, H. 



Berlin, April 12, 1823. 

I have to thank you, which I do very heartily, for the 
few lines you sent me, prompted as they were by your own 
kind feelings. You say, " Do not interpret so Hterally 
words proceeding from an oppressed heart, nor yet that 
despondency which is the effect of a sad destiny." These 
words have deeply moved me. Never shall you experience 
the slightest change in my sentiments towards you. I look 
forward to your next letter with great longing. From some 
of your expressions I am induced to conclude that a more 
agreeable prospect is opening before you. 


VOL. I. H 

74 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, April 25, 1823. 

I was just about to sit down, dear Charlotte, to answer 
your letter of the 9th of this month, when to my great joy 
I received yours of the 20th, for I had concluded you were 
waiting for an answer from me before writing again. I re- 
joice much to know that you are no longer in the same house 
with those unpleasant inhabitants whom you justly regard 
with so great a dislike. In your new establishment you have 
gained something at least in the way of repose and seclu- 
sion. The friend who came to you solely for the purpose of 
counselling you to quit that dwelling, even if you had not 
another to go to, has done you a great service for the next 
year of your life ; and a year is a great space of time, when 
one is obliged to spend it in a situation exposed to constant 
annoyance. StiU I would rather you had taken your present 
dwelling only for the summer, for it could not have been 
very repugnant to you to spend the winter in town. The 
description you have given me not only of the lower but 
even of the higher apartments is such, that it will be difficult 
for you to pass the winter there, at least without under- 
taking very extensive improvements, — such as new ovens, 
repairing the walls, windows, and doors, — which the place 
does not properly admit of, and which, besides, could not be 
accomplished without expense. I understand perfectly well, 
at the same time, your dislike to a town life. Were it not 
for my children, on whose account I am obliged sometimes 
to be in town, especially in winter, I would always remain in 
the country. Even where the neighboui-hood is not in itself 
inviting, still it is something to have a view of the free ex- 
panse of heaven. There is to me an infinite charm in the 


contemplation of the heavens in every variety of aspect; — in 
tlie clear star-light as well as in dark nights, in the soft blue 
sky as well as in the gathering clouds, or in the melancholy 
grey in which the eye loses itself without being able to 
distinguish anything. Every one of these conditions cor- 
responds with a particular disposition in man ; and when we 
are fortunate enough not to be obhged to take our tone from 
the elements, not to be gloomy when the skies are dark, but, 
when gazing on the heavens, to become sunk in contempla- 
tions ever new and ever changing, springing from the clear 
and pure depths within, then the colourless sky can never, 
to say the least, be displeasing to us, although we naturally 
take more delight in it when soft and mild and radiant. 
It is quite foreign to my nature to make complaints about 
the weather, nor could I ever endure to hear others do so. 
I love to look upon nature as a great power capable of im- 
parting the purest joy to those who live on tranquilly with 
her in all her developments, and who consider the sum of all 
these as one great whole, in regard to which the question is 
not whether every individual part is pleasing, if only the 
great general ends are accomplished. For me the peculiar 
charm of life in the country, and in the society of nature, 
consists in watching the different seasons of the year as 
they roll away before my eyes. It is just the same with 
life ; and it has always appeared to me, therefore, an idle 
question, to say the least of it, what period of life offers the 
greatest attractions to man, — whether youth or manhood, or 
any other given portion of time. It is nothing but self- 
deception when any one imagines that he would in reality 
desire a continuance of one particular period. The great 
charm of youth just consists in cheerful and unconstrained 
anticipations of life; and all these would disappear whenever 
it became apparent to any one that he was doomed to be 
always striving, but never advancing a step further; some- 
what like the unfortunate people who are condemned to 
work at the treadmill. It is just the same with age : when 

76 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

the conceptions are clear and powerful, it is nothing else, in 
truth, than a looking beyond this life, an ever-increasing 
conviction that we must leave all things and yet be able to 
dispense with them, loving meanwhile and looking with 
cheerfulness on all we are leaving, as a scene in which we 
are interested, and on which our thoughts still love to linger. 
Even when we do not mingle reUgious thoughts with the 
contemplation of the heavens, still there is something so 
indescribably stirring and solemnizing in losing ourselves 
in the infinitude of space, that all the petty cares and 
desires of this life, and all mere realities, are in this manner 
deprived of their otherwise undue importance. For, true as 
it is that man is the first and most important consideration 
to man, stiU there is nothing which so much tends mutually 
to circumscribe and repress the natural energies, as when, 
closely crowded together, they see only with each other's 
eyes. We must first of all habituate ourselves to recognise 
and feel in nature a power still higher and greater, ruling 
over man, before we can estimate aright their circumscribed 
views and aims. This is the only way, besides, by which we 
learn not to place an undue importance on mere realities, 
and also become more independent of happiness, and less 
dejected by suiferings and privations, and are thus enabled 
to direct our attention to the frame of mind within, to that 
total revolution of heart and disposition to which all mere 
outward circumstances must become in a great degree sub- 
servient. Thus attuned, there is nothing unusually afHicting 
or repulsive in the thought of death : on the contrary, the 
mind takes pleasure in dwelling on it, and looks upon the 
departure from this life, whatever may follow thereupon, as 
a natural stage of development in the order of existence. 

I have been led into this train of thought, partly from 
having just been reading the supplement to the second part 
of your narrative (for which I am truly grateful to you), the 
contents of which are closely connected with this subject. 
It is very difficult to determine how far we may be per- 


mitted to go in judging of facts, for we must regard as such 
what we have ourselves experienced. 

It is scarcely possible to conceive that a beloved person 
should be invested with the power of appearing to the out- 
ward eye either at the moment of departure or afterwards, 
but yet the human mind has experiences within itself, which 
would lead to the supposition that it is possible to penetrate 
such things, though only through a veil darkly. Any one 
who knows what it is to experience a longing, must be 
conscious that it has the power of attaining a degree of 
strength capable of breaking through the usual limits of 
nature. A certain susceptibility towards the perception of 
spiritual appearances may, however, be necessary on the 
part of those who are said to have seen them, and we may 
often be surrounded by spirits, without knowing or dream- 
ing of such a thing. The reason why fewer spirits are seen 
now than formerly, and less is heard of visions, may be 
easily explained. Among the stories of former times, many 
certainly were either false — not exactly invented, but suf- 
fered to remain without inquiry, — or they were natural, 
though misunderstood, phenomena. There was then more 
faith generally, and more also in such things. Men were 
more addicted to fear of the supernatural ; the opinion that 
there was an evil spirit which had the power of torturing 
and seducing, was then received in a more literal and posi- 
tive sense. It may, however, for all that, be quite correct 
that many of these accounts are true, and that there were 
actual supernatural appearances such as the one seen by 
you ; and if that be the case, then the explanation is cer- 
tainly very difficult, especially when an effect of the kind 
you describe is observed by several persons at a time, and 
those of very various character, as was the case in your 
house j for the sight of apparitions and countenances of 
individuals would have admitted of an easier explanation. 
I have already said that a certain susceptibility belongs 
to the perception of the supernatural. Now people may 

H 2 

78 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

have possessed more of this in those days, because they 
lived in a condition less exposed to worldly distractions; 
they had more piety and earnestness and concentration of 
thought, and their minds were more directed towards a state 
of existence beyond this earthly world. This may very 
probably have been the case with such an excellent man 
as your father, and one of so deeply religious a character 
and tone of mind. However that may be, he has taken up 
the cause in an excellent spirit, free alike from fear on the 
one hand, and incredulity on the other. The account has 
interested me in a manner quite unusual; I thank you 
heartily for it, and I look upon your having so soon grati- 
fied my wish in this matter, and that at a time also when 
you were much disturbed and annoyed by your change of 
habitation, as a new proof of your kindness and readiness 
to oblige me. 

As the weather continues so raw, I am still in town with 
my family, and intend going, in the first place, only as far 
as Tegel, my little country place near this; afterwards, 
probably to Ottmachau in Silesia, for six or eight weeks. 
Farewell, and be sure you take care not to expose yourself 
in your new abode to the influence of the air, which is still 
very unlike the season of the year. — Yours, 




Tegel, May 15, 1823. ' 

I now write to you, dear Charlotte, from my little 
country place, of which I have already given you an ac- 
count. I have been here for some days with my family, but 
the weather is still very unfavourable for us. We have 
either constant storms of wind and rain, or the heavens are 
covered over with clouds. The latter I like very well in 
summer. When the clouds are light, covering over the 
bright blue sky, only (as it were) with a delicate veil, the 
wind hushed at the same time, and the air warm, then 
there is a degree of melancholy in the picture, veiy pleasing 
to one who is in a like frame of mind. There is very little 
appearance of green yetj — the oaks in the woods are just 
beginning to burst ; and it is only the earliest trees, such as 
chestnuts, elder-trees, and the like, that are as yet decked 
in full foliage. On the other hand, the blossom on the 
fruit trees is very rich and beautiful. I fancy you every 
day enjoying all this in your own garden, and am only 
afraid that the wind and the bad weather may have in- 
terrupted your walks and been troublesome to you, for you 
have already told me that your dwelling is far from being 
well sheltered. Owing to my brother having been in Berlin, 
and a succession of other less important circumstances, I 
have spent the whole winter in town, without having been 
able to make even a short stay here; I therefore enjoy the 
country doubly, everything possessing as it were the charm 
of novelty. It seems somewhat strange that solitude and the 
open face of nature should have such peculiar charms for me, 
as such a preference cannot be attributed to my manner of 
life. When one has been accustomed to live always in the 

80 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

country, or has been deprived of the enjoyment of it for 
a very long time, a preference of this sort admits of an 
easy solution in both cases : in the latter, novelty supplies 
the place of habit. But neither of the two has been the 
case with me ; — I have neither been entirely deprived of the 
pleasures of the country and of solitude, not even for several 
years at a time, nor have I enjoyed so much of both as 
that they should have become to me like a second nature. 
During the many years when I was without employment 
of any kind, I either travelled or was in society of some 
sort. I had no estate of my own, but lived by my own 
free choice in small towns, — a choice which was influenced, 
however, by other considerations. When I became engaged 
in public affairs, I was drawn into mixing in many large 
circles widely removed from anything resembling the soli- 
tude of the country; but still I found means to isolate 
myself, and was often alone even in the midst of society. 
This art is very easily acquired, if one has only an absorb- 
ing interest sufficient to occupy the whole soul. I have 
always regarded it as one of the greatest benefits Heaven 
has mingled with my lot, — for which I never can be suffi- 
ciently thankful, and feel it indeed more and more every 
day, — that, however, it may have been with me formerly, I 
am now at my age placed in circumstances in which I am 
free to indulge my own favourite inclination. Most persons 
impute it to philosophy on my part, and to my being of an 
unassuming character, that when the time arrived for me 
to retire from active life, I did so not only with equanimity 
at the moment, but have ever since lived happily and con- 
tentedly in the midst of constant occupation, without show- 
ing the least desire to resume a public station, but, on the 
contrary, the evident absence of any appearance of even the 
most secret longing after it. I do not assume to myself the 
smallest merit on this score, because I know that I deserve 
none. My conduct was in conformity with my inclinations, 
the turn and tendency of which may be traced to the fun- 


damental principles of my character, and it is therefore no 
wonder that these should be lasting. Moreover, I am cer- 
tain they will never become weaker. According to my 
ideas, there can be nothing more repulsive than the thought 
of being occupied to the very close of life with concerns 
which must all come to nought at the moment of death, 
and of which we can carry nothing with us beyond. And 
yet all active occupations come under this denomination. 
It is quite the reverse, however, with those which belong 
to thought and knowledge; for even when the latter is 
traced out in detail, it will still in the end be found to be 
closely connected with thoughts and ideas which, when 
properly followed out, cease to have their central point in 
this world. 

Whatever we acquire and bring to perfection of this 
nature is faithfully preserved and carried about with us 
as long generally as life endures. It has always appeared 
impossible to me, that that which has once thought and 
felt within me, should ever cease to think and to perceive. 
Even if intervals of imperfect consciousness take place, if 
the different stages of existence should not be united by 
connecting remembrances, stiU an idea that has once ob- 
tained entrance does not on that account operate the less 
powerfully on the character and on the mind's inward capa- 
cities. It is quite otherwise when we are engaged in occu- 
pations wholly connected with outward circumstances and 
the actual business of life, and that not the result of our 
own free choice, nor from any particular predilection, but 
from quite diiferent views, and merely as a trade. I have 
gone on in this way pursuing occupations of the kind with- 
out trouble, and could have continued to do so as long as 
my powers would have admitted of it. Women are parti- 
cularly fortunate in this respect, that the labours to which 
they devote themselves are chiefly of a mechanical kind, if 
not always entirely so, requiring very little exercise of the 
head, and none at aU of the perceptive faculties, thus per- 

82 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

mitting them to resign themselves to the consideration of 
the better and nobler and more enduring part of man, to ' 
a much greater extent than is possible to the other sex. 
Hence it arises that men are so apt to become one-sided, 
dry, and dull, owing to the nature of their occupations, 
which is never the case with women, even when forced by 
outward circumstances and reverses to make a trade of their 
work, and after having been in their early youth very far 
from any thought of being driven to such a necessity. 

In my present situation, however, there is one thing 
which is not quite so pleasant to me, but which cannot well 
be avoided, — the having to change my abode several times in 
the same year. I very easily become accustomed to a new 
place, but still I prefer remaining in the old, and there is 
something especially attractive to me in watching on the 
same spot the varieties of the seasons as they pass in regu- 
lar succession ; for even the very regularity of these changes 
possesses a charm for me which I have often endeavoured 
in vain to explain to myself. You wiU say, that with the 
fuU and perfect freedom I enjoy, I could easily regulate my 
manner of life here also according to my own wishes. But 
there are always, even for those who are most free, circum- 
stances which must to a certain extent be yielded to, and 
which determine the line of conduct; and this is the case 
with me also. In like manner, during this year, I shall 
not be able to remain here beyond the first of June, and then 
I must go into Silesia, where I may be obliged to remain 
for more than two months, and then I shaU probably re- 
turn here again. I am sorry, since you prefer my being 
there to all other places, that I shall either not be able to go 
at all to Burgorner this season, or only at most for a short 
time. — I now bid you kindly farewell, and beg you will 
pardon me for saying so much about myself in this letter. 
I speak to you as if it were to myself, and you know how 
agreeable it is to me when you do likewise. With the most 
affectionate attachment, yours, H. 



Tegel, May 26, 1823. 

Our letters have crossed each other, dear Charlotte, for 
I had written to you without waiting till I should receive a 
letter from you, and you have sent off yours sooner than 
usual. You will have seen by my last that I am just about 
to set out on my journey, and I shall therefore only say a 
few words to you to-day. I see by your letter that you are 
in suffering, which I greatly and deeply deplore ; and you 
also complain of evils that are more than ever grievous and 
burdensome to you. Much of this must doubtless be 
ascribed to your change of abode, and to the disquiet and 
solicitude caused by the trouble of having to look out for a 
new one. I flatter myself, however, with the hope that all 
this will pass away when you get more accustomed to the 
new neighbourhood and its associations, and when, with the 
advancing season, you wiU be able to have the enjoyment 
of spending more of your time in the open air. In this 
view I was greatly rejoiced to find by your letter, that even 
at the time you wrote, you were becoming much more re- 
conciled to the garden, which may now be caUed your own. 
Nevertheless I always dread to look forward to the winter ; 
for when the health is so feeble as yours, alas ! seems al- 
ways to be, the chief point is to have a house with very 
thick walls, and sufficiently secure in every way against 
changes of temperature. Now this does not appear to be at 
all the case with yours, according to your own description. 
I beg you will consult with some one who is skilful in such 
matters, before the dangerous season of winter arrives, and 
when he has pronounced his opinion, then follow his advice, 
whatever it may be. It would certainly be a great evil if 


you were obliged again to change your abode, but not so 
great as putting your bealth in jeopardy. I beg you will 
foUow my advice, dear Charlotte, to which I must be al- 
lowed to add another request : Take care of yourself, for 
repose is more essential to you than anything else, after so 
much exertion and fatigue. 


I was much pleased with the part in your letter about 
the festival of Whitsuntide, so expressive is it of the deepest 
necessities of your nature. I also prefer it to all our other 
great festivals. There is something at once consoling and 
elevating in its holy signification of the descent of godly 
power on human beings, and yet not beyond the power of 
our minds to conceive, seeing we can perfectly well under- 
stand how the divine and the human may be mingled in 
the same mind. Humanly speaking, however, it is a very 
delightful festival, because it concludes the winter in a 
peculiarly appropriate manner, and Ave begin then to look 
forward to the bright days of summer. 

What you say about pain and suffering I very well un- 
derstand, — namely, that you have not yet attained to the 
point of being independent of fortune and its vicissitudes, 
and especially of jDain. It has often appeared to me that you 
do not possess the power of enduring suffering with firm- 
ness, — which is perhaps the sign of a feminine nature of 
peculiar softness ; and as it would be both unjust and useless, 
I will not attempt to harden your nature, but will rather 
wish — which I do most fervently — that pain, advei'sity, 
and every species of sorrow, may ever remain far from you ; 
to which end I shall ever with pleasure and willingness 
do all that I can to contribute. But with our sex the case 
must be very different. When a man allows suffering to 
obtain the mastery over him — when he anxiously shuns it 
on all occasions, and is constantly complaining of what is 
unavoidable, — then he becomes an object of contempt 
rather than of compassion. But there must be a vast dif- 


ference between men and women in many respects. It is 
quite becoming and natural in a woman to cling to another 
for support. A man must doubtless also possess the same 
power ; but when it becomes a necessity of his nature, then 
it must certainly be viewed either as a defect or a weakness. 
A man should always strive to be sufficient to himself, and 
in all respects independent, 

* * * * * # 

The question you put to me, whether I have ever known 
what it is to be in real suffering, is a very natural one. 
Kest assured, that I always avoid speaking of what I have 
not known and fully tested by my own experience, 

I have not yet exactly fixed the day of my departure, 
but, at all events, it is so near, that a letter from you will 
not find me here. I must therefore beg of you to write to 
me according to the directions I lately gave. Meantime, 
wishing from my very heart that all may go well with you, 
and that your health may soon improve, I beg again to 
assure you of my heartiest sympathy and attachment, 

Happiness and unhappiness lose much of their true value 
when they are allowed to pass out of the sphere of inward 
sensibility. Just as reality is, in its effect, always miserable 
and limited, so also is the charm of every agreeable feeling 
lessened when it is clothed in words. Such feehngs must 
dwell, increase, and if of a transitory nature, decline and 
perish in the heart in which they originated. It is just the 
same with unhappiness. The pain which is confined within 
our own bosom has something sweet in it, with which we 
could wish never to part, if it be preserved and held sacred 


I cannot receive consolation from any other person than 
myself. If I did not possess sufficient firmness to enable 
me to be my own comforter, .such a consciousness would be 

VOL. I. I 

86 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

mucli more unpleasant to me than anything I could be 
called on to endure, were I to become the sport of an ad- 
verse fortune. It is natural to conclude, however, that the 
case may be otherwise with women ; but when it is so with 
men, we regard them as anything but praiseworthy. A 
man must be sufficient to himself. 


Pity is a most repugnant sentiment, and sympathy, 
without doubt, a very delightful one, — but only when of a 
certain kind. 


That you take so deep an interest in everything that 
concerns my welfare, has infinite value in my eyes; but to 
have actual experience of this sympathy, to stand in any 
measure in need of it, I could not reckon to be among the 
most desirable of feelings. Altogether the idea of need is 
extremely repugnant to me; — but I only speak for myself 
and of my own feelings. I have hitherto always striven to 
be in need of nothing I was not myself able to supply. It 
is perhaps impossible ever entii'ely to attain such a con- 
summation ; but if it could be reached, we should then, and 
not till then, become capable of the highest friendship and 
the most exalted love ; capable at the same time of bestoAving 
as well as of enjoying it, and that in the most perfect, pure 
and unselfish manner. For the idea of need always suggests 
a certain mixture of the corporeal mth the spiritual, and 
whatever belongs to necessity takes away from true enjoy- 
ment. The satisfaction of a Avant is merely the redress of a 
grievance, and therefore always of a negative nature ; but 
true pleasure, physical as well as intellectual, must always 
be something positive. For example, he who stands least in 
need of friendship, has the fullest and most perfect apprecia- 
tion of that which is vouchsafed him; to him it is productive 
of pure and unmixed enjoyment, an accession to that which 
is already contained within the depths of his being, and by 
which he is inwardly blessed ; and when in turn he comes to 


bestow friendship on others, he does so in its most beautiful 
form ; for there is no admixture of self in what he bestows 
— all consideration is concentrated on those on whom it is 
bestowed. The more confidently and firmly two beings are 
each rooted in themselves — the more entirely they are at 
one with themselves and their own lot, — just so much the 
more secure is their union — so much the more lasting and 
satisfying to both. But should one of the two be deficient 
in this security, there still remains a suificiency in the more 
perfect firmness of the other. The popular opinion that 
love and friendship need reciprocal support, is unsubstantial, 
and applicable only to a second-rate class of persons, both 
as to sentiment and feeling ; for in such a case both may 
easily be deprived of all security when neither is in posses- 
sion of any guarantee against the weakness of the other. 
You must understand, however, that when I speak in this 
way, it is masculine independence of mind I allude to, which 
I hold to be in reality the first requisite for the formation 
of a character of real manly worth. The man who suffers 
himself to be deceived and carried away by his own weak- 
ness may be a very amiable person in other respects, but 
he cannot be called a man, — only a sort of intermediate 
thing between the two sexes. Such persons ought not to 
find favour in the eyes of woman (although this is far from 
being always the case) ; for a truly beautiful and purely 
feminine nature should be attracted only by what is highest 
and noblest in the character of man. 

88 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Ottmachau, July 12, 1823. 

* * * The estate upon which I now reside — which 
I have once before mentioned — came into my possession in 
the year 1820. It is most charmingly situated. The old 
castle stands upon a hiU, from which the eye commands a 
view of the Silesian, Bohemian, and Moravian mountains. 
Between these there are hills, at the base of which the 
River Neisse flows. The most beautiful fields, meadows, 
and thickets, are interspersed amongst the mountains; — 
and these also form part of my possessions. It is true I do 
not reside in the castle, for the interior is not completed ; — 
a few of the apartments only are habitable, and these are 
occupied by my children ; but a little lower down the hill 
there is a most comfortable and excellent house, which, to 
a great extent, enjoys the same prospect, — and this serves 
as my place of abode. 

It is perfectly true that my lot in life is a very happy 
one ; and your remark is just, " that this is more to be at- 
tributed to good fortune than to any active exertion on my 
part." This is indeed true, and it renders my happiness — 
if I may be permitted so to express myself — still happier. 
A gift bestowed by fortune is far dearer to me than one 
obtained by my own merit. He who is favoured by fortune 
appears to have sufficient worth and importance to induce 
fate to heap her gifts upon him. I have been fortunate 
also in many transactions of my life, the happiness arising 
from which cannot be so readily recognised as external 
prosperity; — indeed I may assert, that up to the present 
time, fortune has favoured all my undertakings. Many 


aiFairs, both of a public and private nature, by no means 
wisely conceived, have not been followed by those evil con- 
sequences which they might so easily have produced ; and 
others, which cost no great amount of trouble, have been 
rewarded by the happiest and most brilliant results. I am 
accustomed, therefore, to regard myself as one* of fortune's 
favourites, and am never deficient in courage. Yet I always 
bear in mind that prosperity may desert me at any moment, 
— and thus prosperity makes me doubly circumspect. If 
great misfortunes were to overtake me, whether of a phy- 
sical or a moral nature — if my health were to decline, I 
should naturally suffer like other men, but I should be 
found fully prepared to encounter these evils; I should 
continue to look back with a cheerful spirit upon the long 
period of bygone happiness which I had enjoyed, and my 
internal tranquillity would be influenced only to a certain 
extent, and not destroyed. That very independence which 
I first mentioned, enables one to encounter every species 
of misfortune, and to me at least prosperity and adversity 
have quite another signification than to other men; — and 
this has ever been a main feature of my mental constitu- 

You ask me, dear Charlotte, in the letter which I had 
the pleasure to find awaiting my arrival, and for which I 
have not yet thanked you, whether I have ever felt a fer- 
vent desire 1 Undoubtedly I have experienced this emotion ; 
— although it is equally true, — and I mention this not as a 
fact deserving of praise, when perhaps it should rather be 
considered as a source of self-reproach, — that at a very early 
age I had attained to a state of tranquillity which no ordinary 
circumstance could interrupt. I learned, at an early period 
of life, to be content with my own reflections and sensations 
independent of every foreign influence; and now this re- 
pose, this retiring within one's self, harmonizes perfectly 
with my age, and becomes, therefore, doubly natural. I am 
also perfectly convinced that this tranquillity, this inde- 

I 2 

90 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

pendence, has not lessened the warmth of my emotions. 
There are, however, but few men who are capable of com- 
prehending how it can happen that one can be free from 
restless desires, and be able to suffer privation without 
pain, and shall yet receive the gifts of fortune with the 
greatest thankfulness; but to me it appears extremely 
natural. You must not, however, imagine that I blame 
the existence of ardent or even turbulent desire in others. 
Every man has and must have peculiarities, and whilst re- 
taining my own, and not permitting myself to be attracted 
by others, I cannot condemn contrary opinions. I am very 
much indebted to you, therefore, for every expression of 
your esteem — every renewed assurance of the constancy of 
this sentiment : they are always equally agreeable to me. 

I trust you have been again employed about the narra- 
tive of your life; I rejoice in the expectation of receiving 
it. In ten or twelve days I shall leave this place, and hope 
to find letters from you awaiting my arrival in BerUn. With 
sincere affection, yours, H. 



Tkoel, August 11, 1823. 

The day before yesterday I went to Berlin j — yesterday 
I returned, and was exceedingly delighted, dear Charlotte, 
to find a letter and packet awaiting my arrival. From this 
it appears that you are again well, and growing accustomed 
to your new habitation, and that you feel yourself better 
whilst employed in superintending the improvement of your 

I thank you most sincerely for the continuation of the 
narrative of your life. Although I have not been able, as 
you may well imagine, to peruse it upon this the first day 
since my arrival, I have yet run my eye over its contents, 
and am exceedingly pleased with all that I have seen, and 
feel perfectly assured that every portion will equally delight 
me. Dividing it into years is exactly the system which I 
wished you to follow; and so far from being frightened 
by the copiousness which such a plan involves, I find in it 
an especial charm. I beg of you to continue it upon the 
same plan, and, if you have the desire and leisure, to pro- 
secute with industry and courage that which you have 
commenced so beautifully ; but, above all, do not weary in 
reference to the details of the narrative. As copiousness 
consists in the perfect description of every individuality, and 
as it is from this source the principal charm and importance 
of such a narrative is derived, it were a pity to avoid it ; — 
but yet you must not attempt more than is compatible with 
ease, — it must not be made a wearisome task ; there must be 
no self-sacrifice, but it is to be a glance thrown upon the past 
with him who takes a sincere, heartfelt, and ever-continuing 
interest in your welfare. I now for the first time recognise 

92 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

the plan which you intend to follow. You will first de- 
scribe your parents and your home, and then speak of 
yourself. You do well to pursue this subject until the 
death of your parents : were you to adopt any other plan, 
you could not fully pourtray your own character, and it is 
far better to keep all that refers to them apart from your- 
self, rather than unite the two narratives. I particularly 
thank you for the dedication, and am convinced of the 
literal truth of the descriptive portions of your narrative ; — 
all is in strict accordance with your character, and deeply 
impressed with the peculiarities of your mind, which are 
precisely such as are best calculated to give especial value 
to such a narrative. Your remark in the preface, that in 
drawing up a record of the past we live life over again, is 
very true ; but there is necessarily a great difference be- 
tween the emotions produced by reality and those which 
mere memory calls forth. 

When events of a painful nature occur, the harsh and 
cold reality produces depression and anguish, which is fur- 
ther increased by the feeling of uncertainty as to what 
shall follow; — memory softens these emotions into a gentle 
sadness ; pain no longer exists as an isolated, solitary point : 
it diffuses itself throughout our whole existence, and thus 
assumes an aspect of mildness unlike its true character. 

Retrospective reflections, which have for their object the 
investigation of the secret recesses of the heart, exert over 
us a truly beneficent and salutary influence. However well 
we may already have become acquainted with ourselves, yet 
the oftener we attempt to pourtray our own character, the 
greater will be the clearness and precision of the picture; 
many of the single lineaments will become more correct, 
and the whole more consistent with truth. 

You need not entertain a fear that by your narrative you 
can lose any portion of my esteem. Such copiousness of 
style as shall unfold the history of a life from its earliest 
stage of development is precisely that which is most cal- 


culated to protect from misunderstanding, error, and false 
criticism. I am sure you will agree with me, that we es- 
timate the worth of a character rather by general conduct 
than by individual acts. Men of ordinary minds attend 
solely to the latter : this is equally true of the laws which 
govern society; but the power which pierces through the 
heart attains to a knowledge of the disposition, purpose, 
whole nature, and character of the mind; — and history 
arrives at the same end. Every connected narrative which 
endeavours to distinguish between, and to exhibit eiFects 
apart from their causes, is history, and produces a similar 
effect, whatever the subject may be, — whether the event 
be of a nature affecting the destinies of the world — or the 
history of a simple, private individual. Generally we do 
not desire to peruse the events of a person's life that we 
may at the same time pronounce judgment upon them: — 
at least such is my opinion. 

The contemplation of an amiable character — the con- 
sideration of the source whence it arises and the effects 
it produces — excites pleasing emotions in the mind of the 
contemplator, when the subject is agreeable to him and 
awakens his sympathies, without his having either to cri- 
ticise or to form an opinion. He sees (if it be possible to 
separate the two), generalities in separate existences — hu- 
manity itself in the individual. On the other hand, I am 
convinced — and that part which I have already perused has 
confirmed me in this conviction — that your narrative wiU 
give me reason to approve of those sentiments which many 
years since your appearance and conversation — and at a 
later period your letters and history — have called forth, from 
which source my warm, active, and never-changing sym- 
pathy has taken its origin, and I feel assured that it wiU 
serve both to support and even to extend this emotion by 
new examples of the justice of my opinions. Continue, 
therefore, to write, dear Charlotte, with courage, and with- 
out a single fear of misconception on my part. H. 

94 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


September 10, 1823. 

I have now perused, with much attention and great 
pleasure, that part of the narrative which I lately received, 
and again I thank you most sincerely and heartily for it. 
I have chosen for its perusal those times in which I enjoyed 
the most perfect leisure, in order that I might be able to 
transport myself into the different positions and situations 
which you have depicted. 

Some of these have appeared to me uncommonly charming 
and attractive, — and this must not astonish you. The life 
of a child is a most unimportant subject when we confine 
ourselves to immediate results alone; but when we have 
before us a minute and copious narrative, it is quite other- 
wise; — it is no longer the result which becomes the object 
of contem^plation, but it is the change which is going on in 
the soul, under the influence of external circumstances — 
the internal development of thoughts and emotions. In 
this point of view the life of a child is not only as attractive, 
but it is in truth even more so than that of an adult ; for 
the period of childhood gives more fully the elements of 
comparison. Thus for instance, I can with great pleasure 
compare your character as a child with that of your parents, 
and again with your own at a more mature age ; and in the 
perusal of your autobiography these three points of observa- 
tion have ever stood distinctly before me. 

It is perfectly evident that the characteristic feature of 
your mind as a child, and which we shall always find mani- 
festing itself as you proceed with the history of your life, is 
a certain spirituality of being. You certainly appear, at an 
early period of childhood, to have paid uncommon attention 

LETTER XXir. 95 

to all that was passing around you; — and yet not so much 
for the purpose of living in these events^ as to select 
materials for the formation of an internal world of your 
own, peculiar to yourself It is equally observable that, 
for this peculiarity of your nature, you are indebted to 
your father, in Avhom it was also equally present, though 
somewhat modified in form, and deriving its origin from 
other sources. 

In reference to the characters of your parents and their 
relative worth, it is not easy to form an opinion. Judging 
them according to their conduct in life, your mother's cha- 
racter would create the most favourable impression. She 
was practical in her views — active, sj)ii'ited, intelligent, 
aifectionate, and benevolent — not in a trifling, but in the 
true sense of these expressions. She possessed decidedly 
the higher character of the two. In your father's we miss 
that practical energy which is yet more necessary in a man 
than in a woman. But we must abstain from forming an 
unfavourable opinion of him ; — it is perfectly evident that we 
do not possess the means to enable us to penetrate into his 
internal nature; and it is extremely probable that he never 
found an opportunity unreservedly and freely to disclose 
the peculiarities of his nature. In reference to his wife, he 
could not take such a position ; at a later period he might 
have done this in reference to yourself, and perhaps to a 
certain extent this did occur; — but your pages will disclose 
this as you proceed. Yet it rarely happens, and then only 
with reluctance, that a father can perfectly disclose himself 
to a daughter whose mental nature has grown superior to 
his own. 

There was also combined with your father's internal cha- 
racter (by this term I mean especially to refer to that 
inclination which he possessed above all others, to occupy 
himself with his own meditations) a something which, al- 
though we cannot say it was truly corporeal, was yet sepa- 
rate from and perfectly independent of his volition and 


consciousness. This peculiarity, which in its nature some- 
what resembles animal magnetism — this habit of indulging 
in dreams, points to a something which possesses a myste- 
riousness that evades our reasoning faculties both in refe - 
rence to cause and effect ; and it indeed sometimes assumes 
the appearance of an unknown power — an indeterminate 
existence, which prevents our forming decisive opinions in 
reference to the character in which it exists. 

I confess that I have no predilection for a character of this 
description. I require in myself lucidness of thought and 
a clear conception of what passes in my own mind, so that 
no mental process shall go on without on my part direct 
and well -determined volition. I naturally possess great 
power and self-command, — partly the result of the original 
conformation of my mind, and partly derived from the 
habits of a long life, which date their beginning from a 
very early period of my existence; and there is to me 
something painful in the very idea of a condition similar to 
your father's, who, according to the dream which you have 
narrated, believed himself to be ruled over by a strange 
spirit. I am very careful how I permit myself to judge, 
to the slightest extent, of your father's character, as I shall 
ever be in reference to any person so closely connected 
with you. 

In respect to yourself, I may say that both your parents 
should have watched you more carefully and continuously. 
It would have been difficult for your mother, on account of 
the great difference of character between you, to have in- 
fluenced you, in the strict sense of the word, educationally; 
— she was, moreover, partial in her views, and would have 
endeavoured to make you precisely like herself She allowed 
you greater freedom than is proper for children — most 
probably either because she could not succeed in her plans, 
or because your father sometimes protected you against her 
unreasonable expectations. Precisely on account of the 
greater delicacy, gentleness, and reflectiveness of your 


nature, it might have proved beneficial if she could have 
instilled a portion of her own character into yours. But this 
is merely a blind conjecture, at best but a trifling remark; 
for other plans have produced such good results that it is 
superfluous to indulge in a disquisition having in view the 
determination of the question whether a difierent system 
of education might not have produced a character still more 
perfect. Had it been possible for your mother to have im- 
parted to you a portion of her nature, it might indeed have 
lessened the number of unpleasant circumstances to which 
you have been exposed; it might have excluded many, and 
have given you greater power to endure others ; but much 
in your nature would then have remained undeveloped and 
unknown; and when the enjoyment of fortune (by which 
word I merely understand the absence of pain, or positive 
pleasure) comes into competition with the possession of a 
beautiful and gifted soul, so as to compel us to relinquish 
the one or the other, I do not hesitate to say that it is 
better to give up the external advantages. 

Your aunt in L has certainly exercised a great in- 
fluence on the development of your character. She pos- 
sessed a truly amiable nature, and both in thought and 
action was much more nearly related to you, than was your 
own mother. 

It has most agreeably surprised me to find Dohm and 
his wife mentioned in this part of your narrative. I knew 
them well. Before I went to the University, whilst residing 
in Berlin, I for some time received lessons from him ; at that 
time, however, I saw little or nothing of his wife ; and shortly 
afterwards he was appointed ambassador to Aachen. During 
the same year that I met you in Pyrmont, dear Charlotte, 
I travelled to the Rhine, and spent eight days with Dohm. 
As he was closely engaged in his bureau, I passed much time 
with his wife, who always pleased me extremely. She was, 
as you remark, very pretty, and possessed naturally an 
agreeableness of manner, such as is but seldom met with. 

VOL. I. K 

98 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

Since that time I have not seen her, but in 1817 I met him 
at Frankfort-on-the-Maine, on his return from Switzerland. 
Many years had intervened since our last meeting, and we 
had both experienced many changes. His conduct in the 
Westphalian affair cannot certainly be commended, — per- 
haps it was not altogether free from weakness; but he was 
always a well-meaning, honest, and — from the power of his 
intellect and the extent of his information — interesting 
man. Ill health had at that time greatly impaired his 
strength ; — he was but a shadow of his former self. Hardly 
three weeks had elapsed when chance again brought us 
together. During my journey towards London, and whilst 
residing in an hotel in Cologne, a great fire occurred during 
the night in the neighbourhood ; and although it was not 
of a serious nature in reference to human life, yet as the 
streets in that city are very narrow, it threatened to be 
sufficiently so to property. I arose and went out. In the 
passage I met poor Dohm, with a parcel under his arm. 
Our mutual surprise was great, for neither of us knew that 
the other was lodging in the same hotel. He died not long 
afterwards. When I think of him in the costume Avhich 
you describe, and in the little tragedy you mention, it ap- 
peal's to me truly singular. 

You ask me whether I am familiar with the country 
around Minden in Prussia and the Porta Westphalica. No, 
I am not. Whenever I have been in that province, I have 
always been in great haste, and I have never once visited 
those districts. I regard them, however, as very interest- 
ing for other reasons than simply because they hold an 
important place in history. It is scarcely probable that I 
shall ever travel again — that I shall ever do more than 
merely move on in the narrow circle in which I now revolve, 
— and in all probability I shall never see you again. 

I perceive that you want my advice upon some subject. 
Write to me without delay, and when I can advise you, I 
Avill do it with pleasure. It is true, however, I do not lay 


much stress either upon asking or giving advice. Generally- 
speaking, they who ask, know what they wish to do, and 
act accordingly. A man may permit himself to be enlight- 
ened by others upon many points, even upon subjects of 
expediency and duty, — but he must determine his course of 
action for himself. Farewell. — Unalterably yours, 


100 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Tegel, 28th Sept. 1832. 

I have just received your letter, dear Charlotte, posted 
on the 23d, for which I sincerely thank you. Although I 
have not sufficient time fully to reply to its contents to-day, 
yet I will not defer sending you my advice upon the step 
which you contemplate in reference to the Duke of Bruns- 
wick. I am not acquainted with the Duke nor with any 
person in his State who possesses the slightest influence 
over him, and I cannot therefore positively say what effect 
your letter'will be likely to produce ; yet on the whole I am 
decidedly in favour of the course you purpose to follow, and 
would advise you to write in the most direct and immediate 
manner. I cannot perceive how it is possible that your 
request should militate in the slightest degree against your 
success. I need not say that there is nothing in it either 
improper or indiscreet; — and it is probable that he will 
examine into the merits of your case and grant your pe- 
tition. I also advise you to write direct to him, by post, 
without the intervention of any one, and that as quickly 
as possible — that is, as soon as you learn that he is in 
Brunswick. Do not seek further advice from your friend 
upon this subject ; and should he attempt to dissuade you 
from sending the letter which you have ah'eady written, do 
not follow his counsel. 

You have in your possession letters from the deceased 
Duke who fell on the plains of Waterloo ; and in these he 
expressed much sympathy for your position, and permitted 
you to entertain the hope that at the termination of the 
campaign he would have settled a pension upon you. Send 
the original letters to his son, and rest your claim to a fa- 


vourable consideration upon those expressions of his father's 
regard and sympathy; and if he desires to have any corrobo- 
ration of your statements, refer him to your friend in Bruns- 
wick. State in your letter that his father was induced to 
express himself thus favourably, partly from an attentive con- 
sideration of your circumstances, which were well known to 
him, but that he had been much more powerfully influenced 
by the great sacrifices which you had made. Tell him also 
that your present position merits the same consideration, 
and that a small but certain income would be of great value 
to you. Do not forget to add — for it may influence him 
powerfully — that you regard his father's letters as sacred 
and dear memorials, and express the hope that he will 
return them. I will by no means encourage you to indulge 
in the expectation that this step will be successful ; for it 
may happen that the result will be quite otherwise : all that 
you can do is to endeavour to make a refusal painful to him. 
But I think it extremely probable that the sight of his 
father's handwriting may deeply impress and predispose 
him strongly in favour of your petition. It is for this reason 
that I decidedly advocate a direct application from yourself; 
for if the subject is brought under his notice by another 
person, I am pei'fectly convinced that it will produce no 
effect. I do not know whether the laws regulating pensions 
in Brunswick require the recipient to reside within the 
kingdom — most probably such is the case: but take no 
notice at present of this subject. If he grants you one, and 
makes it at the same time dependent upon this condition, it 
will then be time enough to petition him a second time to 
absolve you from a compliance with this law. With the 
same unalterable regard, yours, H, 

K 2 

102 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Beblin, 18th Oct. 1823. 

I have already noticed the most important part of your 
last letter, dear Charlotte — that is to say, in reference to 
your present circumstances; — and I am anxious to discover 
from your next whether you have followed my advice. Of 
course the result is uncertain, but the step which you have 
talcen cannot be followed by any bad consequences, and we 
cannot say what may happen. 

I think it of great importance that we should never 
neglect any opportunity of exercising a control over the 
ordinary coui'se of events; instead of neglecting such op- 
portunities, we ought to avail ourselves of them whenever 
they exist, and weave the result into the common web of 
life. This should be our Une of conduct more especially 
in relation to affairs which have already reached a certain 
point of development — as in the case of your prior acquaint- 
ance with the deceased Duke, who has expressed himself so 
favourably that it would be folly not to pursue the business 
still farther. At the same time such a practice also leads 
to a knowledge of human nature, and next to the good 
results which we can now and then produce either by our 
arrangements or actions, there is nothing more useful than 
the habits of observation and research thus acquired, and 
the consequent amassing of experience ; at least this is by 
far the most interesting of all our occupations. 

The tendency to regard the events of life as we do the in- 
cidents of a drama may not perhaps be equally strong in all 
men, but in my nature it has existed perhaps to a greater 
extent than was compatible with propriety; and the con- 
templation of the development of events, as well as of the 


characters of men, proved a never-failing source of pleasure 
to me, even when I found myself surrounded by circum- 
stances which required my active cooperation. I have not 
only enjoyed a great amount of internal happiness from this 
habit, but it has also aiForded me much assistance in every 
species and variety of occupation. It is easy to comprehend 
the cause of this happiness. It has its origin in two dis- 
tinct sources : — In the first place, we experience pleasure 
whenever we contemplate the exercise of active power, and 
enjoy stUl further gratification from the discovery of the 
secret connections of things and events; and then we be- 
come, as far as we ourselves are concerned, more indifferent 
as to the results which may ensue. It is certain that our 
sympathy for others cannot be in any way diminished by 
this indifference, whilst we thereby acquire coolness and 
circumspection in all our actions. This attitude of mind, 
especially Avhen the events contemplated happen to be of 
great importance, imparts to us the conviction, that however 
much they may operate against our individual interests, 
they are yet in accordance with the deep designs of destiny; 
— and to be able to catch but a glimpse of this plan — to 
recognise but the smallest portion of this design — is to enjoy 
an intellectual gratification of the very highest order. 

The same remarks do not apply to the events of an indivi- 
dual life : at least such is my opinion. It would seem to me 
mere vanity and egotism, — feelings which I could never 
permit myself to entertain, — were I to suppose that any 
thing happening to myself was connected with the hidden 
destinies of the world. It is true I am a portion of the 
whole — but I am only a mere atom. Intellectually, there- 
fore, I am not interested farther than to know how I shall 
conduct myself, — whether I shall be firm when exposed to 
advei'sity — moderate when placed in the midst of prosperity 
— and whether I always pay the debt due by a man to his 
duty and conscience. Beyond this, things may go as they 
will : I will seek to accommodate myself to them as weU as I 

104 w. VON Humboldt's LETTERS. 

can. The comparatively unimportant events which affect 
myself and family afford me a high degree of pleasure when 
I contemplate the persons, circumstances, and other things 
which are connected with them; and this pleasure often 
compensates for many occurrences of a very unpleasant 

It must be well understood, however, that this desire to 
contemplate and investigate the events and circumstances 
of life must not proceed from idle curiosity — it must not be 
of a nature similar to that which conducts the lover of 
pleasure to a theatre, — but it must spring from an intense 
interest in the welfare of humanity, not merely in man's 
temporal happiness — for this is by no means the most 
important consideration — it must be an interest which con- 
nects itself with his internal being, employment, and nature ; 
it must spring from a desire to appreciate more thoroughly 
the nature of man, from the contemplation of his unwearied 
spiritual exertions, and a desire to learn as much as possible 
of the nature of the movements, and the apparently in- 
separable connections of those wheels which together work 
out the destinies of man, — in order so to influence and 
control them, that true, although perhaps not immediately 
perceived harmony, may result from their action. As" man's 
excellence depends upon the loftiness of his views, so is it 
with reference to this subject : if the point aimed at is pure, 
noble, and good, nothing but what is great and exalted will 
proceed from it. 

I beg you to send me the continuation of your autobio- 
graphy as soon as you have finished what you intend. At 
any rate, I must ask you to do so between this date and 
the 15th of November: if this cannot be effected, pray 
retain it for the present. I go first to Thuringia between 
the 5th and 15th of November; and afterwards, although 
not for a lengthened period, to Burgorner. Under any 
circumstances I shall send you a few lines before my de- 
parture. Farewell. — With the sincerest regard, yours, 




Berlin, JSTov. 3, 1823. 

I thank you very much, dear Charlotte, for your letter 
of the 12 th, which, however, did not arrive until a very late 
period. I have not yet found an opportunity to peruse the 
last number of your narrative, and will answer it at a future 
time. In this letter I shall speak only of your petition to 
the Duke, and of my own departure. 

I return you unaltered the sketch of the letter which 
you intend to forward to the Duke. It is perhaps some- 
what too lengthy, — and I endeavoured to correct this, but 
soon relinquished the attempt. Under such circumstances, 
if we would make an impression upon the heart of the 
reader, it is not a short, smooth, mere business-like letter 
which is best calcidated to produce this result, but one 
which bears in its language an impress of the heart of the 
writer; and it is precisely this feature which disappears, 
at least to a great extent, under the correction of a third 
person; and thus, instead of improving that which is sub- 
mitted to us, we weaken or destroy its most important 
characteristic. Besides, the length of your letter is not a 
serious evil. The Duke must remark the handwriting of 
your father : this will excite interest, and even curiosity will 
induce him to peruse the whole. 

I shall leave Berlin in a few days; — have the kindness 
to address to me at Burgorner, and write upon the envelope 
— " If absent, to be kept until return." Farewell. — Forgive 
the haste in which I write. H. 

106 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


BuRGORNBK, Nov. 29, 1823. 

Here, for the first time, dear Charlotte, I have found 
an opportunity to read your letter of the 25th of last 
month, and I have now received yours of the 25th of this, 
together with a new portion of your manuscript autobio- 
graphy; — for both of which I heartily thank you. If my 
departure had not been delayed against my inclination, your 
first letter would have lain here until my return — for this 
time I had given no directions to have them forwarded to 
me — which would have grieved me very much. The letter 
which has been sent to the Duke carries with it my best 
wishes for its success. I trust that the plan will not prove 
fruitless in its results, for I reckon much upon the effect 
likely to be produced by the letters of his father which you 
have inclosed. 

I am enjoying excellent health in this place. The weather 
is not merely good for the time of year, but it is in itself 
always tolerable, and often extremely fine. This day has 
been really beautiful, and the sun shone out most plea- 
santly; — he did not indeed elevate himself far above a 
dense dark cloud which covered the south-western sky, but 
all above this was perfectly blue. 

It is a source of great satisfaction to me to find myself 
wholly alone, for I have much business to attend to, and 
would willingly devote some time to my own afiairs. I 
love solitude for its own sake, — and here I am exposed to 
no interruption. 

The pleasure which I constantly experience in finding my- 
self surrounded by my own proves an inexhaustible source 
of happiness superadded to my already happy life. I could 


never bring myself to regard that state as worthy of being 
called a happy one, which simply takes the place of a 
vacancy — fills up as it were a gap in a man's mind, — which 
negation of existence may be regarded as nearly related 
to a state of unhappiness. It has ever been my opinion 
that true, exalted happiness begins to exist at the period at 
which a man, previously in a state of self-satisfied indiffer- 
ence, first becomes conscious of the true birth of inclination 
and sentiment within him, by his increased activity. He 
is then able, for the first time, to compare his former state 
of indiiference with his present active existence, and he im- 
mediately perceives the defectiveness, the want of a some- 
thing in that mental state with which he was previously 
so contented. I have never manifested violent desires or 
passionate inclinations, — they are foreign to my nature. 
But this is a temperament which I am not inclined to 
praise, nor will I urge anything in its defence; — it may 
easily have arisen from a want of that energy which is re- 
quired to prosecute most of the more important and serious 
affairs of Hfe. I have not experienced this deficiency in an 
equal degree at every period of my life : at present it is 
natural, and comports with my years. All that vivacity 
of perception, all those passionate impulses, which are the 
characteristics of youth, should be first extinguished in 
the man : and when this occurs, his power of determination 
and capacity for exertion may long continue to exist. 

I now come to speak of the last part of your autobio- 
graphy, — the receipt of which I have already thankfuUy 
acknowledged at the commencement of this letter. I com- 
menced and finished its perusal yesterday without inter- 
ruption, and it has afforded me the greatest pleasure. It 
is not of the slightest consequence if, as you fear, some of 
the events should really belong to another date than that 
which is assigned to them; — it is impossible for memory 
to recall them aU in their true order of occurrence. It 
would puzzle me very much were I called upon to narrate 

108 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

as circumstantially the events of any one of the years of my 
boyhood; — it is astonishing to me that your memory has 
proved so retentive. 

As you speak so much of composition in the present 
portion of your narrative, I will take occasion to tell you, 
which I do most faithfully, that it again decidedly exhibits 
this excellence ; — all that it contains is admirably conceived 
and expressed. 

The way in which your character has been developed 
has interested me very much. Your remark is perfectly 
true, " that the information which you obtained principally 
through your own exertions, and accidentally by means of 
intercourse with grown-up persons, has been powerful and 
lasting in its effects, simply because it was so small in 
amount, and fell upon a heart desirous of a better and 
more liberal education." I might make further inferences. 
It would not astonish me if this accidental education had 
contributed more powerfully to form your character as it 
stands, than if all its elements had been previously syste- 
matically arranged. We must not always regard education 
as a direct guide to propriety of deportment, a good cha- 
racter, and a tolerably extensive amount of information : it 
often effects much more than merely to collect together a 
number of influences to be brought to bear upon the mind 
to be educated, — the contemplated result of which plan is 
often completely frustrated, and in its place a series of 
effects is produced arising from the energy of the individual 
being placed in opposition to these influences, which their 
direct action could not have called forth; — for the result 
of any system of education depends entirely upon whether 
a man is capable of applying the influences brought to bear 
upon him to the ends of self-culture, or whether he permits 
himself to be moulded by them. 

I have likewise observed with great pleasure that my 
opinions are confirmed, and that the same peculiarities 
which now characterize your disj)osition and intellect were 


perceptible also in your childhood. It has always been my 
opinion that a man cannot change the essential features of 
his nature: he may relinquish errors — he may exchange 
virtuous and good habits for vicious courses ; but his nature, 
whether mild or violent — whether more directed to ex- 
ternal action or to inward contemplation — whether pene- 
trating to the hidden depths of things, or resting content 
with superficial views — whether betraying weakness and 
vacillation, or firmness and decision in the occcurrences of 
life, — ever remains from childhood to death the same. 

These are the most important remarks which I have to 
make at present in reference to this part of your autobio- 
graphy; I shall notice other features at a future time. I 
again repeat my thanks, and shall ever continue to feel 
grateful for the trouble you have so kindly taken to please 
me. Do not for the future attach any separate documents 
to your narrative : if they are letters containing something 
which it is necessary to know, be so kind as to copy them 
into it. I wish not only to become acquainted with your cha- 
racter, but to learn it as depicted by your own hand. Such a 
plan connects your present with your former self, and this 
self-description and self-judging has a double charm for me. 

As I shall shortly leave this place, and shall not arrive 
in Berlin before Christmas or New-year s Day, I am sorry 
to be compelled to request you not to write to me before 
Christmas Eve, but at such a time that your letter may 
reach Berlin shortly before the New year. My wife is 
perfectly well and cheerfid. She is accustomed to visit 
one of the spas every year, — sometimes alone, sometimes I 
accompany her. This year she was in Marienbad, but it 
was not for the benefit of her health, as she was not ill ; so 
that what you have heard must refer to a prior indisposi- 
tion, or it must have been an exaggeration. With sincere 
thanks for your kindness, and with the most afiectionate 
regard, yours, H. 

VOL. J. L 

110 w, VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, Jan. 12, 1824. 

Your letter, dear Charlotte, of the 12 th of last month, 
has given me the greatest pleasure. I thank you with my 
whole heart for all the kind expressions which it contains ; 
accept also my warmest thanks for your New-year's good 
wishes and congratulations, and feel assured that I return 
them from the depths of my soul. No person can take a 
deeper interest in your welfare than I do, — no one can 
desire greater happiness for you, — and therefore no one 
can take so hearty an interest in your prosperity; — of 
this remain unchangeably confident. 

Give, my dear Charlotte, unceasing and earnest attention 
to the preservation of your health and tranquillity of mind. 
I am convinced that our happiness or unhappiness depends 
more upon the way in which we meet the events of life, 
than upon the nature of those events themselves, A man 
cannot exactly give himself a joyous, cheerful temperament, 
for this is the gift of Heaven ; but we can to a great extent 
prepare ourselves to encounter with tranquillity, to bear 
courageously, and by our presence of mind to turn aside, 
or lessen in number the many adverse circumstances which, 
in a greater or less degree, life prepares for all. In the 
adoption of such a line of conduct, we do not endeavour 
to render ourselves independent of a higher power — (if 
such were our design, we should not long remain happy ;) 
— our motive is simply to endeavour to protect ourselves 
against unpleasant events. But we certainly act both in 
accordance with reason and the will of Heaven, when, with 
as much energy as our powers will permit us to exhibit, 
we oppose ourselves to fortune, and seek to modify her in- 


tluences by strengthening our own mental powers. I make 
these remarks, dear Charlotte, in order to dissuade you 
from tormenting yourself with imaginary evils; for I per- 
ceive that owing to a dream you have surrendered yourself 
to uneasy presentiments of future ill. Your words — " Do 
not regard my anxious despondency too closely — do not 
view my language too critically j misfortunes always create 
superstition, — the unhappy fear all things, and see nothing 
in the events of life but sad forebodings ; the happy know 
nothing of superstition " — have very much affected me, and 
have excited my deepest sympathy, and it is from these 
emotions alone that my remarks have proceeded. You 
possess so clear and determined an intellect, and you have 
expressed yourself so correctly upon this subject when wri- 
ting to me of the peculiarities of your father's character, 
that you ought not to permit yourself to be influenced by 
so trivial an omen, if it can be deservedly called by such a 

Do not regard what I have just said as intended to con- 
vey a reproach, for it is certainly far from my inclination 
to offer one upon the subject; but I do most earnestly 
desire that you should not thus continually torment your- 
self, that you should not thus injure your health and dis- 
turb your occupations, and that you should not deliver 
yourself up to presentiments which may either caU forth 
sorrow for events which may never occur, or lead you to 
anticipate with premature grief those circumstances which 
may actually happen. 

I consider it not improper that I should express myself 
thus clearly upon this subject, for I fear that the state of 
mental agitation in which you live may otherwise not pass 
quickly away, and also because you have often given me the 
pleasing assurance that my remarks tranquillize and comfort 

I shall remain here continuously until the spring; be so 
kind, therefore, as to continue to address me as usual. You 

112 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

will also confer a great kindness upon me if you will send 
me the continuation of your autobiography. I have tho- 
roughly considered all that you have called my attention to 
upon this subject; and think that the following plan may 
be adopted. That which you have yet to describe arranges 
itself, as far as I know, under three heads : first, the con- 
tinuation of your early life up to the time of your marriage; 
secondly, the description of this event and the period fol- 
lowing ; and lastly, the years intervening between the pre- 
sent and that time. The first of these three divisions it 
can hardly be difiicult for you to continue: as far as I 
remember, it contains nothing the remembrance of which 
can occasion pain; and on the other hand, many joyous 
recollections will be awakened ; besides, it will be devoted 
to a period of your existence which completes the history 
of your education and early development ; and this has an 
especial charm for me. I shaU not hesitate to entreat you, 
therefore, at any rate to complete this portion of your 
autobiography, and to forward it to me. How much you 
shall transmit I leave it to yourself to determine; — this 
must be arranged according to circumstances and the nature 
and extent of your occupations. 

Whether you will then have the kindness to write and 
send me the second period of your life is another question. 
In the first place, I need not say that it would afibrd me 
much pleasure; — this it would be sure to do, and to a very 
great extent ; but I perfectly agree with you that writing 
the description of weary months — indeed years — of con- 
tinued anxiety and agitation, would be very painful; and, 
viewing the subject in this light, it is impossible that it 
should give me pleasure, — the thought of the pain endured 
in its composition must necessarily embitter all the gratifica- 
tion which the narrative could otherwise aff'ord. I certainly 
do not coincide with your opinions in reference to the re- 
collection of past sorroAvs. Speaking for myself, it would 
certainly be painful, but with the pain there would be con- 


joined a sad pleasure; and I should conceive such an exercise 
beneficial to the formation of my character, and as being 
calculated to bestow upon me that strength which every 
man needs to enable him to encounter life and destiny. 
But I fully perceive that this line of thought is not appli- 
cable to your case ; and seeing that I have passed a far 
happier life than you have done, I almost mistrust my own 
opinions upon this subject. Examine for yourself, dear 
Charlotte, and act accordingly ; determine for yourself whe- 
ther you can enter into a description of the second period 
of your life, or whether you shall stop when you have com- 
pleted the first. I am fuUy and deeply convinced that you 
would make any sacrifice to give me pleasure ; but do not 
forget that a line of conduct which involves a great sacrifice 
on your part, cannot naturally aff'ord me any gratification. 

The third of the above-mentioned periods does not appear 
in itself to require any serious deliberation ; but you your- 
self must determine whether it can be treated apart from 
the second, or whether it will not be necessary, in order to 
pourtray the progressive development of your mind and 
disposition, to refer more frequently to it than would be 
compatible with your tranquillity. If this should prove to 
be the case, the third part must equally be passed over 
in silence. It will at any rate delight me extremely to 
possess a perfect picture of your life from the period of 
childhood to that of youth, pourtrayed with the greatest 
copiousness of detail; — continue it, therefore, up to the 
time of your marriage. 

Now farewell. Put away anxious care; — trust the bene- 
ficent powers of fate, and do not believe that there are ex- 
istences which, not content with the suffering which arises 
from real misfortune, purposely try to torment the heart 
with unfounded fears. With the same unalterable attach- 
ment, yours, H. 

114 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Resignation to that which may happen, hope and trust 
that that alone will occur which is good and beneficial, and 
firmness when adversity overtakes us, — these are the only 
efiicient bulwarks which we can erect against destiny. 

You call my attention to a passage in the Bible, and ask 
me whether I have read HI I have perused the Bible 
through and through many times, last during my residence 
in London, and I am well acquainted with the chapter you 
cite contained in the Epistle to the Corinthians. It is one 
of the most beautiful in the New Testament when rightly 
understood, but, at the same time, one of those which the 
reader may easily clothe in his own sentiments, into which 
a portion of his individual feelings may be readily infused ; 
and even when these are good and pure, they may still be 
quite opposed to its true signification. With the passage 
in the original Greek text this cannot happen so easily. 

In the German language we have but one word. Love 
(2iet>e), which is certainly in its signification pure, noble, 
and beautiful ; but it is applied to emotions of a very he- 
terogeneous nature. In the Greek language there is one 
word to express that calm, mild, passionless love which is 
always directed to the contemplation of the noblest and 
most exalted subjects, and this is never employed to de- 
signate love as it exists between the sexes, however pure 
and refined it may be in its nature ; and this word, which is 
much more frequently used by the Christian Gi'eek wi-iters 
than by earlier authors, is the very one which is used in 
this chapter. I by no means intend to find fault with 
Luther's translation. I confess much rather that our Ger- 


man word is dearer to me than any other on account of its 
comprehensiveness, and because it embraces within itself 
every allied emotion of the soul. 

There are two facts which render the contents of this 
chapter, and the idea which should be connected with this 
word Love in the sense used by the Apostle, extremely 
noble and beautiful. The first is, that Love itself is spoken 
of as being eternal in its nature, not merely in reference to 
eternity but in its own self, and it is contrasted in this re- 
spect with many other things which are great and estimable 
but yet transitory in their nature; it is pourtrayed not as 
a solitary, perishable sentiment, but as an all-comprehensive 
condition of the soul diffused throughout the whole family 
of mankind. Love, it is said, never ceases to exist, and 
this sufficiently proves that it must be directed towards 
objects which are themselves imperishable and everlasting, 
and that it must be so intimately connected with the heart, 
that it can never be separated from it under any circum- 
stances or modes of existence. This remark is not made 
in reference to a peculiar love, not even to that of higher 
existences, but it is intended to apply to that internal 
state of mind which pours itself forth upon all things 
that are worthy of love, and upon which it can bestow 
itself Why Love alone should be called perfect, when 
all other earthly things and emotions are termed imperfect, 
it is not easy at first to understand, for the Apostle evi- 
dently calls all those emotions of the mind which he enu- 
merates perishable, because they can never exist in a perfect 
state in finite man, and Love, however pure and elevated its 
nature may be, is yet but one of those emotions which are 
perishable in the sense of the word used by the Apostle. 
It is possibly for this reason : — all other gifts and emotions 
of the mind are termed perishable, because, to render them 
otherwise, they require an amount of intelligence and power 
which cannot exist in finite and perishable man. Love, on 
the other hand, originates in a sense of want; it belongs 

116 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

purely and entirely to sentiment and disposition ; it is in 
its nature self-sacrificing, yielding, and obedient, and there- 
fore not so hemmed in by the trammels of our finite con- 
dition. Of course it could not exist in man if there were not 
a something in the depths of his nature, binding him to and 
connecting him with the Eternal ; and when Love's aspira- 
tions render him happy, he then becomes more conscious of 
the existence of this relationship. But, as I remarked at the 
commencement of this letter that eveiy one received this 
passage of the Bible according to his individual feelings, 
and could do this without falling into error, so I confess 
that I take this word Love as being perfectly and essentially 
distinct from that emotion which is felt between the sexes. 
I recognise in it simply a description of a far more exalted 
emotion of the soul, which is free from all selfishness, re - 
fined from every passion, which dwells with benevolent 
regard upon all things, bears a favourable or adverse destiny 
with calmness and resignation, and from whose tranquillity 
there emanates an animating warmth which infuses itself 
into all surrounding objects. It is for this reason it is said 
Love envieth not — is not puffed up, &c. For the same 
reason Hope and Faith are associated with her, but she is 
represented as being elevated above both, and especially as 
superior to works. This may appear at first strange, but it 
is vei'y right : whenever the emotion of pure Love is present, 
works spontaneously flow from the feelings she inspires. 
This condition of the mind is essentially opposed to that 
in which a man is always demanding, always unquiet and 
full of care, which leads him to pay far more attention to 
the exercise of justice than to the strict practice of duty, 
and fills him with self-esteem and self-approbation. 

This is the view which I take of this passage in the Bible^ 
but I am far from asserting that no other is applicable to it. 




You ask me to explain the difference between prophe- 
sying and speaking with tongues, as mentioned by the 
Apostle in the 14th Chapter of the 1st Epistle to the Co- 
rinthians. It is certainly a very difficult passage, and one 
upon which we may spend much time in meditation, without 
arriving at its true meaning. In the New Testament we 
frequently find that which is clear and intelligible com- 
bined with what is less distinct, and it is precisely this 
feature which makes it so very beautiful. All that is ne- 
cessary for the tranquillization, improvement, and true 
development of the nature of man is lucid and easily in- 
telligible, whilst those passages which are less obvious, 
nay dark in their signification, are by no means detrimental 
to this effect. 

So long as a man continues to fulfil his duty in this life 
(and this is aU he has to attend to), so long will he want 
something which shaU conduct him beyond this stage of 
existence. Such passages as these, occurring in a book which 
is given to be always in his hand, tend to supply this want, 
and as it is only by deep contemplation that he can pene- 
trate beyond this life, mysteries are placed before him that 
he may learn by reflection to fathom them. 

The following is the light in which I view the phrase — 
" Speaking with tongues." 

The Apostle connects speaking with the tongue, or with 
tongues, with the spirit (©eift) ; and prophesying, with the 
understanding (SSerjIanb); (for without doubt Luther has thus 
rendered the Greek text, although I have no German Bible 
by me to which I can refer.) By the expression " speaking 
with tongues" he understands, in my opinion, that living, 

lis w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

animated flow of language which appears to come from a 
distant source of inspiration, in which the speaker utters 
the overflowings of liis heart without troubling himself to 
know whether he is vuiderstood or heard : it is thus that a 
man converses with himself and God. By the term pro- 
phecy (SBeiffaijung) the Apostle by no means understands 
the power of foretelling future events, but the public teach- 
ing and unfolding of high and important truths : whoever 
assumes this position is called in Eastern language a Pro- 
phet. Now such a man has an external object to fulfil : it 
is explanation and instruction towards which his thoughts 
are directed, and his language must be of such a nature 
as shall at once be calculated to influence his hearers and 
be within the reach of their intellectual powers. For this 
reason the Apostle very wisely defines the relation which 
exists between these two states of the soul. 

Inspired utterance is the first and most important gift, 
and must take the lead in man; for upon the converse 
which he holds with God depends his power to elevate 
others through his influence ; by this means, as the Apostle 
says, he also elevates himself, for a man cannot edify others 
without being himself at the same time edified. But this in- 
ternal inspiration is fruitless to others : the gift of prophecy 
is far better adapted for the promulgation of truth, for by 
this means inspiration is conveyed to the minds of others. 
The highest excellence is to be inspired — that is, to speak 
with tongues, and at the same time to prophesy — that is, 
to instruct. The fifth verse exhibits the distinction between 
these two gifts in a very clear light : the Apostle desires 
that all may speak with tongues, but he had much rather 
that they should all instruct, because the latter is more 
useful, and supersedes the former. 

The passage also equally refers to the manners of the 
primitive church, in which every man was permitted to 
address the congregation. The expression, — to speak with 
the tongue, or with tongues, appears singular; — but it is 


a very proper mode of expression. In the Greek language, 
by the word " tongues" is understood words foreign, un- 
known, or but little used, and this explanation of the word 
may be also taken in connection with the passage ; we may 
also remember that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon 
the Apostles was followed by their conversing in foreign, 
and to them previously unknown languages. Both instances 
are in harmony with the idea of inspired utterance, during 
Avhich men wonder at their own language, and think but 
little as to whether it is understood by others or not. But 
I do not consider either of the above interpretations ap- 
plicable here, especially because it is " speaking with the 
tongue" and not " with tongues" alone, that is spoken of. 

But a much easier explanation of the passage may be 
given. Whenever we speak of things which are well under- 
stood, or self-evident, or when we treat of subjects which 
we have previously made intelligible to ourselves by reflec- 
tion, the tongue is then merely the dead instrument of 
speech: it is the understanding, the intellect, which, properly 
speaking, converses; but when we mention thoughts which 
suddenly occur to us, and are of an exalted or mysterious 
nature, it is not the understanding which speaks, but the 
words come as it were to the tongue without our knowing 
from whence they originate. This we might call talking 
with the spirit, but it is more figurative to mention the 
tongue as the source of speech, and as the Apostle evidently 
refers that which is thus uttered to a higher Power, to the 
Holy Spirit itself, — he can only attribute to this organ 
that which the speaker declares. The Holy Ghost — that 
is, God himself — places truths upon it which man coidd 
neither have discovered, nor with his intellectual powers 
fully comprehend. 

We say very correctly of a man who says that which he 
does not believe, that he speaks with the tongue and not 
with the heart: here the expression is precisely similar 
although in reference to another subject. In the Apostle's 

120 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

meaning the tongue speaks (under the influence of internal 
inspiration, a gift of God) that which the intellect, reason- 
ing and judging according to human methods of induction, 
is unable to comprehend. Viewed in this light, there is 
something very beautiful in the instructions of the Apostle. 
We should endeavour, at least we should wish to reach a 
state of pious inspiration, to commune with ourselves and 
God in a way which we rather perceive to exist, than stop 
to examine; but we should strive yet more to make these 
communings clear and intelligible to our understandings, 
and when we endeavour to instruct others it should be in 
accordance with this latter design. I do not know whether 
the above will please you, but this is the way in which I 
explain the passage. H. 



Berlin, 12th March 1824. 

I have received your letter of the 21st, and thank you 
for it most sincerely. It has vexed me, however, to observe 
that you have again given yourself much unnecessary care 
and anxiety. This you must avoid, dear Charlotte, as far 
as possible, and you must endeavour to acquire in this re- 
spect greater self-command. In making this remark, I am 
actuated by no other motive than the desire to promote 
your welfare and to increase your mental tranquillity. 
Whether a letter be written a day earlier or a day later — 
whether a longer or a shorter time than usual intervenes 
before its delivery — depends upon so many accidental cir- 
cumstances, that you must not make yourself unhappy if 
your expectations are not literally fulfilled. 

I recognise to the fullest extent the value of the senti- 
ments which have made you thus anxious on my account ; 
but I am perfectly well, and you need not entertain a single 
fear in reference to me. I am employed during the whole 
day in the transaction of serious and important affairs. I 
seldom leave my room before a late hour in the evening, 
and am at all times tranquil, active, and cheerful. Such a 
state of mind would of itself strengthen an infirm state 
of health — but up to the present time mine has been very 
good. I am fully aware that a change may easily happen ; 
— within a year — nay within a day, this may occur, but at 
present there is no appearance of any such event, and when 
it arrives, it will find me fully prepared to encounter it. 
Sickness itself would have no power over my mental condi- 
tion. I have been accustomed from my earliest youth to 
be rigorous towards myself; I have lived in the constant 

VOL. I. M 

122 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

exercise of this habit, and have always regarded my cor- 
poreal frame as something foreign to myself. I have already 
given such a direction to my occupations that even if I 
were to fall into ill health it would not be necessary to dis- 
continue them, although they might be somewhat inter- 
rupted. You must not therefore conclude that I would be 
unhappy even under such circumstances. 

It delights me very much to learn from the perusal of 
your letter, that you are enjoying pretty good health, and 
that the extraordinary winter we have experienced has not 
had a prejudicial influence on you, as I sometimes have 
been led to fear. I love so much the absence of intense 
cold, that I willingly bear the many little circumstances of 
a disagreeable nature produced by so mild and changeable 
a winter. There is something in severe cold more than 
physically benumbing, and it seems to me that men should 
never be exposed to it; it gives even to nature herself a 
sad monotonous appearance ; to the poor, it is truly merci- 
less. The lower classes, who, generally speaking, are but 
little able to protect themselves against its effects, are in 
consequence much happier in warmer climates, where they 
are exempt from this plague at least. 

You have not sent me for a long time, dear Charlotte, 
any portion of your autobiography. Perhaps we must blame 
the shortness of the days and your other occupations for 
this. When, however, you can find leisure and inclination, 
it is my wish, as I have always said, that you should con- 
tinue it down at least to the time of your marriage. When 
this portion is completed, I will neither entreat nor ask you 
to do more, but thus far it can only prove an agreeable and 
interesting occupation. When you have made up a fair- 
sized packet, have the kindness to forward it to me as 
usual. But these requests are to be complied with only as far 
as may be agreeable to yourself and no further, for it is under 
this condition alone that I could derive any pleasure from 
the perusal of what you may send. What you have already 


forwarded to me presents a portrait so delightful, attractive, 
and characteristic, that it would be a great pity not to con- 
tinue the sketch to some point of life, some important event, 
where it might be naturally discontinued; — and there are 
but a few years intervening before this could be easUy 

I spent a few hours to-day in Tegel ; and although the 
weather was by no means fine, yet it gave me a considerable 
amount of pleasure. The approach of spring is always well 
marked, and produces in man a kind of renewed exist- 
ence ; he becomes moi*e active, imagines that he is about to 
enter upon a renewed lease of life, and forgets to a certain 
extent that the beautiful forms which nature has assumed 
will continue but for a few months, to be again succeeded 
by that same season fi-om which it now affords him so much 
pleasure to escape. If this be a species of self-deception, it 
is yet one which, equally pleasing, equally constant, accom- 
panies us through life. I remember that I have always 
experienced the same, or at least nearly allied emotions, 
from childhood up to the present period of my life. As 
you live in a garden, you will certainly participate in these 
sensations. In a city, indeed, season succeeds to season with 
a sad monotonous uniformity. — With the same unaltenxble 
attachment, yours, H. 

124 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


April, 1824. 
***** The perfect success of all our under- 
takings will of course greatly depend upon the extent of 
our original powers, and these are independent of ourselves. 
I fully agree with you that the success of our designs de- 
pends yet more upon a blessing, high as to its origin and 
incomprehensible in its nature, whose presence may perhaps, 
as you remark, depend upon the integrity of our intentions. 
Your observation, " That it appears as if God would only 
pour his blessings into pure vessels," pleases me exceedingly. 
If a man have not this blessing in possession, he cannot 
charm it towards him. I agree with you that blessings 
are bestowed on mankind in a very mysterious manner; but 
the ideas attached to the words happiness and unliappiness 
are so vague and unsettled, even in the minds of men 
accustomed to entertain correct views and opinions, that 
from early youth I liave constantly endeavoured to gain 
clear conceptions upon this subject; and the conclusion at 
which I have arrived is, that a man is sure to enjoy a cer- 
tain amount of happiness if he endeavours to render him- 
self independent of external circumstances — if he learns, as 
far as possible, to extract happiness from every event of a 
pleasing nature, relative either to men or things, and at the 
same time maintains his independence, and requires nothing 
particular either from the one source or the other. 
* * * * # * 

All merit ceases the moment we perform an act for the 
sake of its consequences. Truly in this respect we have our 


If, dear Charlotte, you have not perfectly understood the 
the contents of my last letter but one, you have on the 
other hand recognised with pleasure in my last the sincere 
interest which I take in you and in your destiny. I thank 
you very much for this recognition of my sentiments of re- 
gard towards you, and I again assure you that you may 
confidently depend upon the unchangeable nature of these 
sentiments. There is nothing that I more earnestly desire, 
than that, after encountering so many storms, you may at 
last enjoy a life perfectly agreeable to yourself, tranquil 
and free from care. I further hope that your state of 
health may correspond with this happy condition of aifairs, 
and that you may live in the cheerful enjoyment of those 
simple pleasures which you have created, and in the me- 
mory of all that is dear to you. I am certain that your 
thoughts dwell particularly upon me, and I rejoice in this 
conviction. All that I can do to render your life happy, I 
will do with pleasure. I again repeat the request which I 
have often made, viz. that you will write to me confiden- 
tially and without reserve; — whenever you desire any gra- 
tification which your means will not permit you to obtain, 
lay aside all false delicacy, and be worthy of your own and 
my confidence. I am always vexed when I think of your 
exertions continued at a time when your health is suffering; 
and although I know full well how to honour such conduct, 
yet I often in my heart wish to see you once again holding a 
position more in accordance with that you were originally 
destined to occupy : — with your intellect and turn of mind 
you would have known Avell how to occupy your time. 
Permit me to advise you to seek some recreation during 
the fine season of this year. Would not a residence at 
one of the spas prove beneficial to you? Answer me with 
confidence, dear Charlotte : what passes between us is known 
to no one but our two selves. H. 

M 2 

126 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 



You have given me a much greater pleasure than you 
can imagine by forwarding the new part of your autobio- 
graphy. I have read it with the greatest interest, — in the 
first place and above all on account of the interest I take in 
yourself: — in this light the present part is to me a most 
delightful one, because it describes a period of your life 
which was spent happily and cheerfully in the society of 
men whom it was interesting to know. It has vividly carried 
me back to the past and to the period which the narrative 
particularly embraces. 

Although diiFerent modes of life have produced different 
manners and customs in those German states which lie far 
apart from each other, yet the spirit of the times is equally 
indicated by -all; and many of the descriptive portions of your 
narrative, though they do not immediately concern yourself, 
have yet interested me very much, and amongst these par- 
ticularly that of Baum, the country-seat of the singular and 
renowned Count of Lippe-Buckeburg. 

The contemplation of the place of residence of a distin- 
guished man is to me always elevating and touching. For 
instance, I cannot approach Potsdam without experiencing 
some emotion. Speaking of sovereigns and rulers, I may 
say that they generally transform to a greater or less extent 
the districts in which they reside, and stamp them with the 
marks of their presence, or they leave behind them edifices 
which create a similar impression. Such characters as these 
increase the clearness of our conceptions, and from the 
contemplation of their lives and works we form living 
pictures in our minds. Even the mere thought that here 
they have once resided — here they have once walked, con- 


veys a something which not only excites our imagination, 
but moves our sensibilities, however coldly we may reason 
about it. 

Judging from your excellent description of him, Baum 
has received from its possessor a stamp so peculiar, so at- 
tractive, and so beautiful, that our interest in the place has 
been considerably increased. The union of the luxuriant and 
attractive in nature, with grandeur and princely pomp in 
art, is always particularly pleasing; and, judging as far as 
the few places I have visited in Westphalia and the brief 
time I spent in them will permit, I should say that the 
wooded districts of this Duchy must be extremely beauti- 
ful, from the abundance of trees and their vigorous and 
youthful growth. Your description, however, of the Count's 
mode of life, and the conclusions which may be formed from 
this source further illustrative of his character, is stUl more 
interesting to me. 

Delicate attentions paid to an infirm and sickly wife, and 
the propensity to indulge in philosophic and religious medi- 
tations, become doubly amiable when occuring in a man 
like the Count, whose courage and manliness, combined 
with certain traits of character more singular than impor- 
tant, was so well known. It has particularly pleased me to 
see that he never trusted her into any other hands than his 
own, but constantly carried her, drove her carriage, and 
was ever with her. The close seclusion in which he lived 
with this beloved object, and in which he persisted even 
still more strictly after her death, is sufficient to prove that 
he possessed an exalted and vigorous mind, rich enough to 
find in itself that enjoyment which we so often vainly en- 
deavour to find in external objects. 

The report that the unfortunate man died from the 
effects of poison, I regard as one of those tales which were 
formerly always told in evangelical countries of those who 
had been in southern lands, more particularly if the circum- 
stances of their lives had placed them in an unfriendly 


relation to the clergy. We are not acquainted with any 
poison, upon the slow and continuous action of which for 
many years we can reckon with the slightest certainty. 
Aqua Toff ana is nothing more than a word without a 
meaning. Heaven only knows how it has originated, and 
to which of the known poisons it may be applied, for it is 
quite certain that it does not refer to any particular one, 
and still less so to a perfectly unknown poison, or one the 
properties of which are but little understood. 

In a room in the old house here at Tegel there formerly 
hung many portraits of princes and distinguished men, who 
were all of them nevertheless nearly related to my deceased 
father. Amongst the number was one of Count Wilhelm 
of Lippe Buckeburg, with whom most probably he was 
personally acquainted. I perfectly well remember this por- 
trait. When this country was in the occupation of the 
French (I was in Italy at the time) some of the troops were 
quartered in the house, and the greater number of these 
portraits were either injured or destroyed; amongst the 
latter number was included that of the Count of Lippe 
Buckeburg. I now doubly regret this loss. 


What you relate of yourself as a child, — how you formed 
pictures in your imagination, for the reality of which you 
wished, longed, and waited, — is precisely my own case, and 
has been so from the earliest period of my recollection — I 
really think ever since I attained my sixth year, which was 
doubly early with me, as I did not begin to speak until I 
had reached my third year. In your case the practice 
originated partly in a strong desire to possess a friend, and 
partly from the perusal of Clarissa; but in my case there 
was no external cause to which it could be ascribed, at least 
I do not remember one. The objects which my imagination 
pourtrayed — I do not mean the imaginary persons, but 
rather the circumstances — were of course various; but 
there was one which, from this early period up to the pre- 


sent time, has never once left me, and in all probability 
will accompany me to the period of my death. Even now, 
whenever I pass a sleepless night, or find myself alone in a 
carriage, or take a solitary walk, or have an opportunity of 
indulging in silent contemplation, the same idea always 
occupies my thoughts, although of course it presents itself 
variously changed and modified. As it is a subject which 
cannot become one of the realities of life, but is confined in 
its sphere of influence to my ways of thinking, it does not 
influence my actions, — but it continues to exist, forming 
a kind of poetical accompaniment to the realities of life. I 
am grateful, in the highest sense of the word, for this habit 
of reflection. 

It is the natural consequence of mental activity and the 
active exercise of imagination and sentiment, to throw into 
the shade the real events of life, and it always proves salu- 
tary for us to lessen the too dazzling light — to diminish the 
too great importance they are apt to assume. Misfortunes 
are thus rendered less difficult to be endured, pleasure is 
no longer the slave of fortune, and the thought becomes 
supportable that happiness is transitory, easily put to flight, 
and that we may soon be deprived of it. 

It will give me the greatest pleasure if you continue to 
occupy yourself with your autobiography. — Sincerely yours, 


130 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Tegel, 15th June 1824. 

I have received, dear Charlotte, your letter of the 22d 
May, and also the one written the last day before the festi- 
val of Whitsuntide. I thank you very much for both. I 
write to you a few days later than usual, because, as you 
mentioned in your first letter a second which should follow, 
I preferred waiting its arrival, and answering both at the 
same time. This will explain the little delay which has 
taken place. 

I am very happy to learn, from the contents of your 
letters, that you are weU, but at the same time you mention 
a pain in the hand from which you suffer. As this does 
does not yield to the influence of the fine weather which 
we are now enjoying, it would be as well to be careful lest 
it should prove to be rheumatism, which might afterwards 
easily pass into gout. I would advise you — indeed I entreat 
you, to prevent this by the early use of judicious remedies. 
Dear, very dear as yoiu- letters are to me, yet I could not 
receive them at the expense of the thought that they oc- 
casioned you pain, or that whilst writing them you were 
struggling against suffering of any kind. Does not this 
pain interrupt you in your artistic occupations? but I sup- 
pose it does not inconvenience you much in this respect, 
partly because, as you have previously informed me, you 
have so arranged that others do that which requires ex- 
ertion, and partly because writing is certainly an occupation 

which apjiarently needs no strength whatever, and yet it 

is one which is very fatiguing, from the firmness with which 
the pen must be held to make so many motions. 

Writing has always proved a most disagreeable occupation 


to me, and even at the present time I do it most unwill- 
ingly. This may sound very strange, for I certainly have 
written a great deal in my lifetime, but it is not on that 
account the less true, — and I have not written so much as 
may perhaps be supposed. From my childhood I have pos- 
sessed a most contemplative turn of mind. I have required 
but little external to myself, and have never found much 
pleasure in communicating with others, except when it has 
incidentally happened. Above all, I have never felt any 
desire to narrate or describe events : both I have purposely 
avoided whenever I could, and when otherwise I have been 
as brief as possible. On the other hand, I have always had 
pleasure in listening to the communications and narratives 
of others. Should you discover a Httle selfishness in this 
conduct — this wish to receive more than I was willing to 
give, I will not deny the justice of such an inference ; but 
so it has always been with me. I speak but little, write but 
little, and have ever kept to these habits. When I make 
an exception, it is only because I think such conduct on my 
part will be appreciated, and then of course I seek to make 
myself agreeable to all. 

You appear to be again closely employed with your work, 
dear Charlotte ; and this pleases me very much, if it is not 
too fatiguing to you. I have always regarded it as a great 
proof of the strength, power of endurance of your nature, 
and as a feature peculiar to it, that you should endeavour by 
active employment to maintain the independence of your 
character after having suffered such severe losses, and that 
in securing this you should on the other hand have provided 
yourself with an agreeable occupation, in the exercise of 
which your many sorrows, if not entirely forgotten, are at 
least less painfully remembered; for this occupation is in 
harmony with your inclinations, it requires the exercise of 
thought, like every other artistic employment, and it coin- 
cides with your ruling desire to contemplate nature. For 
this reason it has always been my desire that you might be 


able to give this occupation such a direction as shall render 
its continuance possible at a later period with less personal 

I fully concur with you in the opinion — although the 
result of earlier experience — that visits are most troublesome 
when made at a time when we have freed ourselves for a 
brief interval from some particular occupation ; but this is 
precisely the time which is generally considered the most 
suitable for a call. 

I shall commence my journey from this place in a few days; 
and as, until near the end of June, I shall have no fixed 
place of residence, I must beg of you not to write to me 
earlier than will be sufficient to ensure the reception of a 
letter about the 25th of June, although I am sorry to re- 
main so long without a letter from you. Address me then 
in Ottmachau, near Neisse, in Silesia. Farewell. — With 
sincere and unchangeable friendship, yours, H. 



Werrnstadt, June 9, 1824. 

Do not take it amiss, dear Charlotte, if I write to you 
in tlie Latin character. My eyes have been for a long- time 
in a condition which renders it necessary that I shoidd be 
very careful, and I have just discovered that the small 
German character is much more straining than the larger 
Latin; — owing to their greater distinctness, you wiU also 
profit by the exchange. There are, however, some persons 
to whom this character is displeasing, or at least they do 
not like to employ it in a correspondence with those whom 
they love, because they are not accustomed to its use ; but 
I take it that you are as free from capricious, whimsical 
fancies upon this subject as upon all others. If, however, 
these characters should prove less agreeable to you than 
the German, tell me so, and I will return to the use of the 

Had I not previously informed you that my second 
daughter was married, and that she resided in this place, it 
can be scarcely in any way known to you. I think, how- 
ever, that, little as I am accustomed to speak in my letters 
either of those who surround me, or of that which happens 
to me, I did once mention it, when referring to my family, 
during my residence in Berlin. 

This place is situated scarcely a day's journey from 
Breslau. It is a small and very inconsiderable town. I 
have been here a few days, and in a few more shall leave 
for my estate in Ottmachau, whither I requested you to 
write to me. 

I always think there is something pleasing and agreeable, 
VOL. I. N 

134 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

both to the imagination and to the affections, in the know- 
ledge that some one is thinking of us with friendly interest 
in a place or a district which is otherwise strange to us, 
of the very name of which we are perhaps wholly or almost 
wholly ignorant. I wish the date of this letter to call forth 
some such emotion in your mind. I have already frequently 
addressed you from Ottmachau. 

Here we are experiencing warm weather, with wet or at 
least damp, which easily induces a feeling of melancholy. 
But I like such weather very much; — under its influences, 
nature assumes a silence more than usually beneficial in its 
effects; she appears as if veiled, — by Avhich, however, her 
features are not obscured, but their form and colour are 
merely softened. I am always attentive, and especially so 
when travelling, to the thousand modifications in the ap- 
pearance of one and the same district produced by atmo- 
spheric changes and alterations in the form and density of 
the clouds. A country may be regarded, in relation to its 
characteristics, much in the same way as we would con- 
template the peculiarities of an individual. Viewed in this 
light, every modification in its appearance corresponds to a 
different state of mind, and the features of the former, like 
those of the latter, may be calm or agitated, mild or harsh, 
cheerful or sad, indeed even ill-humoured or capricious ; and 
the impression produced in the minds of those who know 
how to read nature will be in accordance with these features. 
I can with truth assert that I enjoy the happy talent of 
always receiving the impression in such a way as to convey 
a charm to the mind, and to occupy it pleasingly and 
actively. The state of the weather never proves disagree- 
able to me, and when it is either dull or terrible I feel it 
precisely in the same way as I would regard a melancholy 
or a fearful scene upon the stage of a theatre. 

It occurs to me here that you either purposely avoid a 
theatre, or at least very seldom visit one. It is the same 
>vith me, principally because the brilliancy of the lights is 


hurtful to my eyes, and my sense of hearing is not suffi- 
ciently acute to enable me to understand performers who 
do not speak well and very distinctly. There is a stroUing 
company here just now, and although there would be no 
reason to fear the brilliancy of their illumination, and so far 
from not hearing would rather incur some danger of being 
deafened from the nearness of the seats to the stage, yet I 
have not hitherto been to see the performance. 

We certainly lose very much if, either willingly or com- 
pelled by circumstances, we renounce theatrical representa- 
tions. Even when the performers have but moderate ability, 
the representation of a good piece (and upon its goodness 
all depends) produces an effect much more powerful and 
exciting than any mere reading, although the reading may 
be much better executed than the acting. On the other 
hand, however, there is a great charm in being able at all 
times to withdraw yourself from crowded assemblies. In 
my youth, and at a more advanced period of my life, I was 
vividly impressed with this conviction, and I enjoyed in 
anticipation the time when I should be sufficiently privileged 
by years to be able more and more to renounce society; 
and now that I have attained the consummation of my 
wishes, I find that early conviction fully confirmed. I 
have always contemplated old age as a more pleasing, more 
charming period of life than youth ; and now that I have 
reached this term of hfe, I find my expectations almost 
surpassed by the reality. It may be that I am, to a certain 
extent, more advanced in mind than in years and in my 
corporeal frame. I am now 57, and one who, Uke me, has 
undergone no great bodily fiitigue, who has been generally 
healthy, has lived a life of extreme regularity, and has kept 
free from passionate emotions, which undermine the con- 
stitution, will not find at this age any marked decrease in 
his physical power. But freedom from all that is calculated 
to excite or strain the mental powers — repose of the in- 
tellect — independence of almost everything which cannot 

136 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

be produced by activity and resolution of mind, — are all 
conditions difficult to be attained in early life ; and even 
when present, they but too often arise from a coldness and 
insensibility of nature, which is more to be regretted than 
their absence. Yet these are the possessions which chiefly 
secure to us an internally happy life ; and it is for this rea- 
son that the assertion frequently made, that old age is more 
dependent upon circumstances and casualties than earlier life, 
is not correct. Physically and externally, this is indeed the 
case, but even here not to so great an extent as is imagined. 
In old age, our desires and self-created necessities — at least 
in men who possess well-regulated minds, and have habitu- 
ated themselves to the exercise of self-command — diminish 
to a greater extent than the power of satisfying them ; — 
and it brings, to a much greater extent, a far more real 
happiness, and an independence much more necessary for its 
existence. Want of resignation and an impatient frame of 
mind, virtually increase and render us more sensitive to evils 
of every description. From these two evils old age tends 
to emancipate us, provided no bad habits have previously 
become rooted in our minds ; for should this be the case, 
they will indeed administer poison to every period of hfe. 
The gx-eat boon, however, which is conferred upon us by 
freedom from all desire and passion — which flows from the 
greater spiritual freedom of old age, and from the cloud- 
less heaven which advanced years present to the mind, — 
consists in the fact that meditation becomes purer, strong- 
er, and more continuous — that it pervades the soul to a 
greater extent, enlarges our intellectual horizon, and fills 
the mind with the desire to employ itself more and more 
in the investigations of science and inquiries after truth, to 
the exclusion of every other wish, and the silencing of every 
other aspiration. 

The contemplative, meditative, and creative life, is the 
most exalted state of existence ; but it is only in old age^ 
that it can be fully enjoyed : at an earlier period it is con- 


stantly coming into collision with our necessities and active 
duties ; and it is not unfrequently distvirbed by tliem. It 
a,- >ieould, however, be decidedly incorrect if we were to suppose 
that the capacity of deriving pleasure from the contempla- 
tion of subjects unconnected with life and worldly affairs 
could not be enjoyed without either extensive knowledge 
or a high toned mind. When these powers incidentally 
exist in any man, meditation may embrace a multiplicity of 
objects, there is of course more vaiiety, and the circle over 
which reflection ranges is at least apparently extended. 
But it is precisely those truths which are the most neces- 
sary, most holy and comforting, which are comprehended 
by the simplest common sense ; indeed they are not un- 
frequently more deeply felt, more correctly understood, by 
such a man, than by one who is distracted by a greater 
amount of knowledge. These truths possess another pecu - 
liarity in addition to the above, for although they require 
no profound thought for their appreciation, but rather 
make their own way into the mind, yet there is always 
something new to be discovered within them — for they are 
inexhaustible and infinite; — they bind themselves to every 
period of life, but more naturally to that which stands most 
closely connected with the time when the final disclosure 
of all the infinite enigmas which these very truths contain 
shall be made. A certain amount of activity perishes, it is 
true, in advanced life, — yet this is but an external and often 
a false treasure ; but greater lucidity of thought, more ex- 
tended benevolence, purer activity, particularly belong to 
old age. 

I know, dear Charlotte, that you fully agree with me 
upon all these points, and I flatter myself that it will not 
prove disagreeable to you, that to a certain extent I have 
permitted myself to speak of them. Subjects which we 
would desire to discuss with but few, are precisely those 
which are best fitted for a correspondence which, freed 
from matters of business and all external control, is most 

N 2 

138 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

pleasing when it is a free and unrestrained interchange 
of individual thought and sentiment. I hope to receive a 
letter from you in Ottmachau. With the most sincere 
attachment, yours, H. 



TEQEt, 12tli Sept. 1824. 

Some days have elapsed, dear Charlotte, since my return 
from Silesia, and it is one of my first occupations to write 
to you. You will already have received my last letter from 

Autumn promises to be very beautiful, and I am un- 
usually happy at finding myself here once again, with the 
prospect before me of enjoying the last and best months of 
the departing year in this jjlace. I love the termination of 
the year much more than its commencement. At this time 
we cast a retrospective glance upon all that we have either 
experienced or performed, and we think ourselves the more 
secure because the space of time is short in which misfor- 
tune can still overtake us. All this is truly but a deception, 
for in this life a moment is sufficient to produce the greatest 
changes; but much of happiness as well as of unhappiness 
is nothing more than deception, and therefore we may be 
thankful for that also which this quiet season brings. I 
am certainly very free from self-solicitude: — not that I think 
myself less exposed to accidents than others, or that I do 
not fear anything which can happen to man, but I have 
cultivated the sentiment from an early period of life, that 
man must ever hold himself prepared to undergo all that 
destiny may bring. Yet we cannot banish the thought that 
life is as an ocean through which we conduct our bark 
more or less successfully, and then it is natui'al to contem- 
plate the short distance with more satisfaction than the long 
voyage. It has always appeared to me, that viewing life as 
a whole, as a work to be accomplished, affords to the con- 
templator the most powerful motive to induce him to meet 
death with indifference; whilst, on the other hand, if we 

140 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

regard life merely in separate portions, we shall then have 
no other object than how to associate one happy day with 
another, as if this could continue for an eternity; and 
nothing can then be more void of consolation than to find 
ourselves standing by that boundary at which the thread of 
life will be suddenly broken. 

The trees begin already to assume those variegated hues 
which so adorn the autumnal landscape, and which to some 
extent compensate for the fresh green of early spring. The 
little spot in which I reside at present is admirably calcu- 
lated to exhibit all those beauties which are displayed by the 
varying foliage of majestic trees of different kinds during the 
course of the changing seasons. Old trees cast their broad 
shadows around the house and encircle it as with a green 
fan; beyond the field, avenues branch off in various direc- 
tions, and single fruit-trees are scattered here and there 
through the garden and vineyard: there is a thick and dark 
coppice in the park, and the lake is surrounded by woods, 
whilst its islands are fringed with bushes and trees. I have 
a particular fondness for trees, and neither like them to be 
cut down nor transplanted. There is something sad in the 
removal of a poor tree from the spot in which he has made 
himself a home for many years, to plant him in new earth 
and in a strange place, from which, however much his new 
residence may disagree with him, he cannot be removed, 
but slowly declining must there await his end. Trees, above 
all objects, pourtray to the imagination an unspeakable 
amount of aspiring desire; for although they stand fast 
bound and confined to earth, yet they elevate their sum- 
mits as far as they are able above the ground to which 
they are rooted. I know nothing in nature so symbolic of 
elevated aspiration. Man with all his apparent freedom is 
in truth very similarly circumstanced, however wide his ex- 
cursions may prove, he is yet confined to but a point of 
space : sometimes he cannot leave even this point to the 
slightest extent, — and this is often the case with women; — 


the same little spot may serve as his cradle and his grave ; 
or if he departs, desire or necessity brings him back from 
time to time ; and should he remain continually absent, his 
thoughts and wishes are directed towards the home of his 
earhest recollections. 

I am happy to think, dear Charlotte, that you enjoy 
in your garden, at least to some extent, the pleasures of a 
.country residence. I well know how much attached you 
are to such a life, and how you treasure every joy which is 
connected with it. The approaching termination of autumn 
and the commencement of winter renders my employment 
very disagreeable. My eyes are certainly very much im- 
proved by the continued use of appropriate remedies ; they 
yet, however, require much care, and I do not strain them 
by candle-light. This shortens the day very much, and 
when we subtract the time spent in domestic life, in paying 
visits, together with that consumed by interruptions of va- 
rious kinds, and lastly that occupied by the real business of 
life, but very little of the day remains. 

I may truly say, that the more closely and exclusively I 
continue to devote myself to study and meditation, the 
more I lose myself in these pursuits, the more I lose all 
taste and inclination for every other occupation. The 
events of life have not the slightest interest for me ; they 
pass by like momentary phenomena, which yield nothing 
either to my intellect or heart. I contract more and more 
the circle of my acquaintance. Those with whom I enjoyed 
the most charming intercourse at an earlier period of my 
life are dead, and I have always regarded the formation of 
of such social intercourse as a happy accident of which we 
should avail ourselves, when an opportunity offers, rather 
than as a necessity which we should seek to gratify. On 
the other hand, the field of knowledge and research is un- 
bounded, and ever presents new charms. It occupies all 
our hours, and our only desire is to be able to increase 
their number. I can with truth assert, that I often pass 

142 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

whole days in inward meditation, without stealing a mo- 
ment for such subjects, except when they occur as mere 
passing thoughts. 

Natural History has never attracted me. I am deficient 
in the power of fixing my attention upon external characters. 
Antiquarian researches, however, charmed me at an early 
period of my life, and it is this which now constitutes my 
real study. Man, at an earlier period of his existence, 
showed more exaltedness and simplicity, more profoundness 
and freedom from artificiality in his thoughts and emotions, 
and also in the language in which he clothed them. We 
certainly cannot arrive at the full and perfect appreciation 
of this truth by any other means than by such an amount 
of erudition as is only to be acquired by painful application, 
which robs us of much time from our more mechanical 
occupations. But this has its peculiar charm, or at least the 
difficulty may be easily conquered if we are accustomed to 
patient research and labour. The books of the Old Testa- 
ment belong to the purest, strongest, and most beautiful of 
those voices which have reached us from hoary antiquity ; 
and we can never sufficiently thank our language that they 
should have lost so little either of force or truth in the 
translation. I have often contemplated with pleasure the 
fact that it was possible to collect so much that is great, 
beautiful, and various, as we find in the Bible, — that is, in 
the books of the Old and New Testament. Even if this 
were the only book in the hands of the people, as is the case 
with us, they would possess in it an entire analysis of human 
nature, whether in relation to its poetry, philosophy, or 
history; and all so perfect, that it would be difficult to find 
a single intellect or mental disposition which could not find 
a corresponding accord in its contents. Besides, it contains 
but little so incomprehensible as to be beyond a common 
average amount of understanding. The man of greater 
acquirements only penetrates farther into its interior sense, 
but no one can turn away unsatisfied from its contem- 


I shall remain here the greater part of this and the 
following month, previous to my departure for Berlin, and 
shall then spend but a few weeks in that city : upon this 
you may depend with certainty in reference to your letters. 
I shall most probably travel during the months of Novem- 
ber and December, as last autumn, which will terminate in 
a residence of some weeks duration in Burgorner ; but this 
is not certain, and the time still less so. I will write far- 
ther upon this subject before I leave. I am never incited by 
any active, positive desire to change my place of residence ; 
any wish I may feel to move, is but barely sufficient to 
counteract my innate tendency to remain in one and the 
same place. Thus my travels and changes of residence 
seldom arise from original inclination, but are mostly the 
result of necessity. Farewell, dear Charlotte. — With the 
most sincere feeling, yours, H. 

144 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


BuRGORNER, 13th Nov. 1824. 

Your letter of the 26tli of last month has aiforded me 
as much pleasure as your letters always produce. It is 
extremely kind of you to value so highly the interest I take, 
and shall certainly never cease to take, in the continuation 
of your autobiography. You are perfectly right in attri- 
buting this to the interest which I feel in yourself, and to 
the pleasure which is awakened in me, not directly by the 
description of external events, but by the representation of 
internal states of mind; — these are the sources from which 
my interest flows. 

If it be true that events which have long since vanished 
in the past, no longer influence by their presence the object 
of our sympathies, yet we read of aU that once concerned 
this object with a feeling as if it still belonged to the 
present ; it is as if it were even noAv influenced by these 
circumstances — as if those sources of joy and sorrow still 
affected it;— and in truth it is really so. However great 
the power of time may be, yet it never entirely obliterates 
the recollection of past events ; and although the mind may 
have long remained unoccupied by the emotions immedi- 
ately produced by those events, yet it is time itself, with all 
its changes, which has given that which may be regarded 
as true existence, and which may justly be said to be in- 
dependent even of time. 

I do not mean to assert that emotions themselves con- 
tinue to exist in an unchanged form ; for in this respect 
past and present always stand distinguished from each 
other : it is only the capacity to perceive the one or the 
other which remains unchanged. But the sum-total of all 


the emotions which have ever agitated the mind form so 
close a tissue, that the long-gone-by joy and the long- 
passed-away pain still move the soul, although they may 
not be able to exercise any direct influence upon it. This 
is equally true of the emotions called forth by interest in 
another, as it is in our own individual sentiments. 

You are remarkably successful, dear Charlotte, in de- 
scribing all that relates to the development of your mind, 
even as far back as the earliest years of youth and child- 
hood. All that you say of these times carries the reader 
not only into your external sphere, but your very thoughts 
and feelings are made known to him; — no single feature of 
your narrative elevates itself with undue importance above 
the rest, but each stands depicted in its true and natural 
connexion and position. This capacity which you have 
always enjoyed and preserved, indicates a larger amount of 
contemplative power than is usually bestowed upon us, — 
although indeed women are generally more gifted in this 
respect than men. Feminine occupations, their physical as 
well as their inherent intellectual tendencies, lead to con- 
templation and reflection; but it is seldom that we find 
combined with this tendency, so high an amount of lucid 
thought and distinct perception as you possess. The too 
contemplative nature is not unfrequently obscure and con- 
fused, for distinct comprehension is primarily a property of 
the senses; but your narrative clearly proves that your 
prior state of mind, at every period which memory can 
recal, stands so clearly and distinctly before you, that you 
have nothing to do but to copy from your soul. You have 
no necessity to call upon imagination to fill up any void, 
neither is it necessary to leave any feature of the narrative 
confused or indistinct, but all stands entire and in the 
perfection of truth. The great practice which you have 
had in the art of composition, — which is seldom enjoyed 

VOL. I. O 

146 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

by women to so great an extent,* — lias also assisted you, 
and from these several causes it happens that your narra- 
tive presents a living picture of external and internal life, 
so arranged that the former is pourtrayed with definiteness 
and precision, only that the latter may be the more lucidly 
illustrated, the more decidedly characterized. 

You speak of blame, which you think you may have 
incurred to a certain extent by what you have written. I 
do not know why you should just now be led to anticipate 
it ; I cannot conceive what you mean. I have not observed 
anything in this part which merits my disapprobation. I 
thought I had already expressed my opinion in reference to 
your description and remarks upon the characters of your 
long since deceased parents ; they contained nothing which 
could justly be considered objectionable. Whenever we 
turn to the contemplation either of characters or of actions 
with the wish to delineate them faithfully, we must do it 
entirely and without reserve. Good points might perhaps 
be pourtrayed more prominently, but not so truly, if we 
were to attempt to keep back every peculiarity which, 
according to this or that opinion, might cast a slight shade 
upon them. The existence of sentiments of honour and love, 
particularly when that of thankfulness is associated with 
them, happily do not depend upon a careful, anxious bal- 
ancing of the merits or weaknesses of those to whom they 
are paid, but are founded upon such original ties as exist in 
parental and filial love, or upon a variety of emotions which 
we prize and esteem; and they always remain the same 
even when we detect little defects — nay even great faults — 
in those towards whom they are directed. That tribute of 
honour which the child owes to the parent, and every man to 
those of greater intellectual power than himself in contact 
with whom he may be placed, and which every well-regulated 
and amiable disposition so readily pays, is much more fre- 

* This is retained only to explain a subsequent passage. 


quently founded upon a presumed worth than upon a dis- 
tinct and actual experience of its existence, and it is given 
to a certain something which shines forth in the carriage, 
mein, gestures, and whole character, but which perhaps has 
not once attained full development. Knowing how easily 
humanity may err — how difficult it is to preserve purity 
of action through all the complicated circumstances of life, 
it is most consoling and tranquillizing to feel that love and 
honour may be accorded even to those who are known to 
be weak, and who have not always kept themselves clear 
from errors. If we know such to be the sentiments of our 
hearts — if we know ourselves to be free from that cold 
and calm severity which first weighs both failures and ex- 
cellencies before it will pay the tribute of love and esteem, 
— we may speak of honoured and beloved persons with the 
greatest freedom and without the slighest self-reproach. 
Yet I am but little given to blame the failings or conduct 
of others, and almost as little inclined to praise them. Re- 
garding all things historically, and attending both to their 
external form and internal nature, we can seldom say 
decidedly how they may have originated, and still less can 
we approve or condemn them. So it has ever been, and 
thus will it ever be. Moral worth can only belong to the 
sentiment which accompanies the action, — and this con- 
science alone can praise or blame. Every man must be and 
is his own judge : conscience then pronounces, more loudly 
and painfully than any external voice can do, her disapproba- 
tion whenever it is merited. It is the same with praise : who- 
ever receives it woidd do well to regard it rather as a free gift 
than as the reward of merit. This may be clearly deduced 
from the fact, that we should rarely praise ourselves to the 
same extent as we are praised by others; but it is more 
agreeable both to hear and bestow praise, and we the more 
easily permit it to pass beyond its just limits, if, when 
occasion requires, we do not hesitate also to censure, al- 
though with gentleness and softness, rather than with any 

148 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

degree of bitterness. For this reason we must not think 
too highly of praise. I am accustomed to consider it, 
whenever it is bestowed upon me, as an agreeable tribute, 
which I do not accurately examine with a view to deter- 
mine how just it may be; — all that we have to do in such 
cases is to take care that we are not injured by it. Fare- 
well for to-day. — With the same unchangeable attachment, 
yours, H. 



The past contains abundant sources of joy and sorrow, 
of self-satisfaction and repentance: — there we contended 
against ourselves, against fate, and the designs of others, — 
and there we conquered and overthrew them. Whatever 
is found there, has truly existed. Painful events have left 
an impression as indelible as a scar ; joyful emotions have 
become as inseparable from us as the intuitions of the soul. 
Moreover, the past is free from all anxiety for the future. 

There are no states of mind so Avell calculated to lead us 
safely through life, as resignation and contentment. If we 
do not possess sufficient firmness to endure privation and 
even suffering, we can never consider ourselves as armed 
against painful emotions ; indeed we must attribute to our- 
selves, or at least to the morbid sensitiveness of our nature, 
every harsh or disagreeable emotion we may have to suffer. 

There is nothing in the moral world to which we cannot 
attain, if we are but actuated by a proper motive. We 
can do whatever we please with ourselves, but we must not 
desire too much influence over others. 


To oppose ourselves to mankind and to destiny, is not 
the noblest disposition of mind to possess; neither is it 
that which promises the greatest amount of tranquillity 
and cheerfulness. We should rather strive to accommodate 
ourselves to circumstances, to regard all that destiny be- 
stows upon us as a gift, being careful not to desire more 
than we possess, and, least of all, not to become dissatisfied 
because all our desires are not gratified. 


O 2 

150 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

Forebodings and presentiments, as they are called, are 
singular mental phenomena. Sometimes the event accords 
with the presentiment, whilst at other times there is no 
correspondence between them. Yet we should not regard 
either the one or the other as mere accidental occurrences 
because the foreboding sometimes remains unfulfilled; — 
neither should we refuse to admit that they have truly 
indicated the future, whenever the event corresponds. It 
is the same with these as with every other state of mind 
which is not based upon intuitive conviction. Mere seLf- 
conviction may deceive; we may be led to regard as a 
presentiment that which is reaUy no such thing; whUst, 
on the other hand, we may sometimes mistake the true 
presentiment, and regard it as a false one. Upon this 
point we shall never attain to any objective certainty; 
there can be no unfailing external sign to accompany the 
recognition of truth. Weak presentiments often occur to 
us ; they may either arise spontaneously, or they may be 
vague and baseless states of mind, induced either by hope 
or fear. When of the former kind, we may confidently 
reckon upon them; but not so if they spring from the 
latter source. The wisest course to pursue is by no means 
to permit ourselves to be misled by them, but always to 
remember, when they present themselves, that probably 
they are false, and when they are unfavourable, to act as 
if we were certain of their truth. H. 



Berlin, December 1824. 

A few days have .elapsed, dear Charlotte, since my 
return. It is one of my first occupations to inform you of 
it, and to write to you, in accordance with the dear old 
custom, which I know will give you as much pleasure as it 
confers upon myself. 

We are approaching the termination of a year. It is a 
period which has always appeared to me more fitted than 
its commencement for meditating upon ourselves and those 
who are connected with us. I look back upon the past 
year, and thank you most warmly and sincerely for the 
constant sympathy you have bestowed upon me throughout 
its course. You may rest assured that to the fullest extent 
I know how to value the deep-felt, unchangeable attach- 
ment you have continually shown towards me ; it has pro- 
duced a similar emotion towards you in my own mind, 
and you may always depend upon my sincerest sympathy, 
and reckon upon my best advice and assistance. Pardon 
me for this expressive repetition; — I know that it is not 
particularly necessary, since you already know it from my 
earlier and oft-repeated assurances; — yet I willingly re- 
peat my sentiments upon this point, for I know well that 
it is not always easy to comprehend me ; I am well aware 
that I do not express my desires for the welfare of others 
in the same way as most men would do; — but as I now 
am, I shaU always remain ; indeed I do not know how to 
change myself in this respect, even if I entertained the 
wish. I repeat, therefore, all I have previously uttered, 
because I feel that, to a slight extent, one might easily 
wander from the truth (although this expression is some- 
what too strong), and because I desire, at the termination 


of the year, openly and simply, but in all truth, to assure 
you that you never will have just occasion to doubt the 
unchangeable sincerity of my attachment ; that no impres- 
sion — not even the youthful one you made upon me — has 
ceased to exist; and that the sentiments of esteem, thank- 
fulness, and trustful devotion which you have uninterrupt- 
edly expressed, truly belong to those circumstances which 
heighten the happiness of my life. Cherish, therefore, dear 
Charlotte, such hopes only as are of a cheerful nature for 
the approaching year. — Yours, H. 



Berlin, 31st January 1825. 

The arrival of a letter before the usual time will occa- 
sion you some surprise, dear Charlotte. But I am unwell ; 
— I am suffering from a pretty severe cough with fever and 
toothache ; these keep me from my usual occupations, and 
I turn with pleasure to my correspondence, and more par- 
ticularly in writing to you, to find a soothing and cheering 
employment. I am one of the most patient of invalids; 
indeed I cannot always bring myself to regard sickness as 
an evil. You will say, this is enough to prove that I have 
never been unweU, or at least but seldom; — and you are 
right. Yet there are many persons who complain of every 
sUght illness, and of such trivial indispositions as are at 
worst but mere inconveniencies. Sickness always brings to 
me a peculiar tranquillity and gentleness of feeling. I do 
not mean to say I am very much otherwise when well; — 
but the occupations of health, especially in men, are ac- 
companied with a zeal and eagerness which more or less 
excite and fatigue the mind. This disappears when we 
become unweU ; we feel that our activity is suspended, and 
we look for no event until we become convalescent. — But 
do not give yourself the slightest uneasiness on my account; 
my -illness is quite unimportant, and will certainly pass 
away within a few days ; it is merely the result of a cold 
taken during an unavoidable exposure. I felt at the time, 
and on the very spot, the commencement of the evil. My 
eyes — you often think most kindly of them — are much 
improved, and I am not suffering any inconvenience from 
them this winter; — this I ascribe to my great care, and to 
the use in writing of the Latin character. 

I have already sincerely thanked you for your last letter. 

154 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

I have often perused it; — every word which it contains 
gives me the sincerest, the most heartfelt pleasure, and 
often have I thanked you in silence for it. You possess a 
rare and natural gift in being able to express your emo- 
tions with simplicity and truth; — it is this faculty which 
gives such force to all you write. I always desired, indeed 
I was always confident, that as you came to know me 
better, you would become more and more convinced of the 
sincerity of my sympathy — the unchangeableness of my 
emotions towards you. This full appreciation of my feelings 
I trust I have obtained. The present affords me an op- 
portunity to express this clearly to you, for at the termina- 
tion of a year our emotions naturally flow towai'ds those 
who are dear to us, and we eagerly connect them with each 
other. Even in ordinary life I pay much attention to 
periods of time, and the commencement of a new year 
is to me no common epoch. I suit all my actions to time, 
and permit it to rule over my conduct. 

That time passes away, and that it should be intellec- 
tually realized, is the greatest and most important concern of 
human life. If we were but thoroughly convinced of this, 
we should become very indifferent to pleasure or pain, pros- 
perity or adversity ; for what is pain or pleasure, adversity 
or prosperity, but the rapid flight of a portion of time, of 
which no trace remains but in the mental improvement we 
may have collected from it? Time is the most important 
thing in human life — for what is joy after its departure? — 
and the most consolatory — for pain, when time has fled, is no 
more. Time is the wheel-track in which we roll on towards 
eternity, which conducts us to the Incomprehensible. There 
is a perfecting power connected with its progress, and this 
operates upon us the more beneficially when we duly esti- 
mate it, listen to its voice, and do not waste it, but regard 
it as the highest finite good, in which all finite things are 


I think very highly of your industry; it is most creditable 
to you, and it is rewarded in the conscious independence 
which you have again secured, after having suffered losses 
so great and so honourable. It is for this reason that all 
you tell me of your occupation, which is in itself very 
pleasing, interests me in the highest degree, 


I prize industry above all things: it is especially com- 
mendable in women. The occupations which they most 
generally pursue possess this attraction, this pecuHar charm, 
— they leave the person occupied free to use her perceptive 
and i-eflective faculties. It is to this source I trace the 
fact, that we generally find in women, even in such as have 
enjoyed no particular advantages of education, a more 
sensitive and better constituted spirit and a greater depth 
of mind, than is generally possessed by men, although in 
point of knowledge the former are to some extent inferior 
to the latter. Certainly the more frequent sadness and 
susceptibility of women proceeds from the same source ; for 
the oftener the mind is accustomed to retire within its 
own deep solitudes, the harsher will the contact with every 
external circumstance prove: — but this is a disadvantage 
which may be easily endured. 

It is a habit of never-failing utility to make of one's self 
a constant object of meditation. We may also assert with 
equal truth, that the mass of mankind are either utterly 
ignorant of themselves, or at least do not rightly understand 
their own nature. Both assertions are correct, — yet we 
can never know so much of any other man — we cannot 
understand in any other person, the secret connexion 
which exists between thoughts and desires, or the origin of 
every inclination and every resolution: such information 
we can obtain only from self-investigation. On the other 
hand, however much we may desire it, we cannot exercise 
impartiality towards ourselves, for the mind is both judge 
and the object to be judged, and we are thus as it were 

156 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

entangled in partiality. For this reason nothing pleases 
me more than to be judged in the freest, most unreserved 
manner by those around me. In this way we become en- 
lightened, we hear remarks made on our conduct we should 
never have applied to ourselves; — and there will always be 
truth of one kind or other in them, if they be not wilfuUy 

This is the last day of the month. You intended, dear 
Charlotte, to have sent me, before its termination, a new 
part of your autobiograpy. I rejoice in this anticipation; 
but now it cannot arrive, for it is too late in the day; — 
perhaps you did not properly calculate the time of the post, 
which may have been delayed by the season of the year 
and the state of the roads. I hope and desire soon to 
receive it; — in any case I entreat you to write to me by 
return of post, and again after the 15th of the month. As 
I have written to you this day, I do not. know whether I 
shall write again on the 12th or later, but you will certainly 
receive another letter from me sometime during the month. 
Farewell. I repeat, do not let my indisposition cause you 
the slightest uneasiness. — With the same unchangeable 
attachment, yours, H. 



Berlin, Feb. 8, 1825. 

I have received the journal, dear Charlotte, together 
with the short letter, and the more circumstantial one 
which quickly followed it. I should have written to you 
to-day as usual, but I have just received a visit which 
detained me, and now there is but one quarter of an hour 
remaining before the departure of the post. I send, how- 
ever, partly to say that my health is reestablished, and 
partly because you expressed the desire to receive a letter 
quickly from me. 

I am extremely sorry that my last should have vexed 
you, and it is a duty incumbent upon me to try to calm 
your mindj but I protest most solemnly that no one could 
have occasioned you pain more innocently. It did not 
occur to me that you, who have known me so long, could 
have so far misunderstood me as to receive in so literal a 
sense (you must forgive the expression), what I had written 
with a freedom which only the deepest intimacy and the 
highest confidence could have suggested. You have in 
your letters always allotted me a high place in your esti- 
mation, and have constantly entreated me to guide and 
instruct you. Had I supposed that my words could have 
displeased you, I must have abandoned the conviction 
that you know how to appreciate my sentiments, which 
have always been, as in that letter, full of affection, sym- 
pathy, and interest. Ought you in justice to have per- 
mitted yourself to be so vexed? Would it not have been 
better immediately to have written to me 1 Your meaning 
was good, but your words do not please me. Dear Char- 
lotte, you may always depend upon my constancy; do 
receive this conviction with a trustful heart, and take once 


158 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

for all the assurance that I never wish to occasion you any 
sorrow, and because I do not wish I cannot. 

You must have received a second letter from me before 
yours reached me. I know that it was written in a most 
affectionate style, and you must certainly have observed 
this ; but at the time it was written I was ignorant that the 
letter which I had just forwarded would prove displeasing 
to you, and this may have again vexed you, which would give 
me much pain, and I am now sorry that I have written it. 
Your answer must be on the way; — when I have received 
it, I will write again and express myself more fully. I 
must conclude for to-day. If you still entertain any sorrow 
in your heart, let it disappear for ever. — With the most 
sincere and lively attachment, yours devotedly, 




Berlin, Feb. 12, 1825. 

Youi- letter, dearest Charlotte, of the 6th of this month, 
has afforded me the greatest pleasure. I certainly was by 
no means in a passion with you, — or at all events it was 
but for a moment. My first care was to endeavour to tran- 
quillize you, as you will have already learnt from my short 
letter. I then became uncertain what course I should next 
follow ; — possibly my desire to avoid giving- you pain might 
have induced me to yield to you contrary to my convic- 
tions: — aU this your affectionate letter has happily pre- 
vented. I repeat, that it has given me great pleasure, and 
I heartily thank you for it. If you remain always as good 
— and I know you will — you will recognise only what is 
true and just; and if you do this, you will fulfil that which 
I promised myself at the commencement of our corre- 
spondence, and will render still greater that pleasure which 
I thankfully acknowledge to have already received. Now, 
I will act precisely as you desire. I will forget your last 
letter, and will never again allude to it; — I will burn it, 
so that not a syllable may exist to diminish the pleasure 
which I derive from your other letters, and at the same 
time I will retain my former freedom, and speak distinctly 
and without anxiety or restraint whatever I may think best 
for us. It is natural that I should decide, and that you 
should acquiesce; but it must and shall ever remain for 
you to determine whether or not you will grant me this 

My health is perfectly reestablished, and I am following 
out my usual occupations; — this particularly pleases me, 
for I can with truth assert that this constitutes my true 
life. These occupations embrace a number of self-chosen 

160 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

subjects, and always such as embody general principles; 
and as I have devoted the greater part of my life to such, 
they have given that serious turn to my mind — that ten- 
dency to dwell upon ideas — to meditate, by which it is 
evidently characterized. I have reduced all that surrounds 
me, everything with which I come in contact, to a certain 
system. I by no means think that this system is in all re- 
spects perfect ; on the other hand, it contains nothing that 
is not from time to time contemplated and reconsidered, — 
and this constantly leads to the discovery of an error, some- 
where or other, to be amended; but so long as I possess 
any influence, I cannot permit anything around me to be 
carried on in a way which I conceive to be either incorrect 
or improper. I can then exhibit a reason for every action, 
and this consequently gives me a foundation upon which I 
can proceed. 

There is nothing more objectionable to me than to grope 
about in the dark, or to change my ideas through mere 
caprice. Of course it is not always possible to base every- 
thing upon its true foundation, — neither can we. expect to 
form our resolutions always in the wisest manner; but we 
can approximate to this: we can reduce all things, even 
the most inconsiderable, to system and order, and we can 
compel ourselves to act in accordance with this order. Not 
to permit ourselves to follow this plan or the other as we 
may be swayed by capricious desire or disinclination, is to 
pursue a line of conduct favourable both to character and 
external circumstances; besides, it is by no means right that 
so uncertain a state of existence should be permitted to 
restrain the soarings of the intellect, or should set limits to 
the emanations of the heart. Intellect moves with much 
greater decision in a definite course, in which it finds a 
fixed object, and the necessary amount of support, and our 
perceptive faculties also are much more vigorous when they 
proceed from well-considered and accurate ideas. 

The new part of your narrative, recently sent, has again 


given me much pleasure. However, this day I shall not 
take any further notice of it ; but I assure you that I very 
much desire to receive the continuation, and I entreat you 
to work at it as your time may permit. I shall expect a 
letter from you in a few days, and I wish you to answer 
this, so that it may be dispatched by the 26th of this 
month. Now farewell, dear Charlotte. Rest assured that 
I often think of you, and always with the most sincere 
interest. I hope the mild weather we have lately ex- 
perienced may have exercised a beneficial influence upon 
your health. The older we grow, the more averse do we 
become to sudden changes and extremes of weather. — With 
the same unchangeable sentiments of attachment, yours, 



162 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, 8th March 1825. 

The description of your life and domestic circumstances 
from the year 1786 has given me, dear Charlotte, a much 
greater pleasure than I can express. It is a period of your 
life which naturally passed away without the occurrence of 
any very particular event; but it is from your extraordinary 
power of depicting conditions of mind that the interest 
principally arises, and it is these conditions which render the 
events themselves attractive, whether they prepare, accom- 
pany, or originate from them. But there is no subject of 
contemplation more charming than the nature of a blooming 
girl of the age you then were. At that time I was nineteen 
years of age, and had never left my paternal home. I lost 
my father at an earlier period — when I was but twelve years 
old he died of an accidental illness, — judging from his pre- 
vious state of health he might have lived much longer. 
You must be about four years younger than myself; but I 
now remember that I am not accurately acquainted with the 
year of your birth. Send me this information once again. 
I always consider it a matter of importance to know 
accurately the age of those I like, especially Avhen they are 
female friends. I entertain peculiar opinions upon this 
subject, and prefer women of more advanced years to the 
more youthful: — even external charms in my opinion con- 
tinue to exist much longer than is generally allowed to be 
the case, and those mental qualities which particularly 
delight us are decidedly heightened by years. 

I never desired at any period of my life to hold a near 
position either to a girl or woman much younger than 
myself; — least of aU could I have married under such cir- 
cumstances. I am convinced that such marriages are not 


usually productive of happiness : they generally lead the 
man to treat his wife as a child ; and whenever there exists 
much discrepancy in point of age it is impossible that that 
freedom of intercourse should take place which tends to 
the mental elevation and happiness of both parties, or that 
that pure stream of thought and sentiment should flow 
between them which peculiarly constitutes all that is bliss- 
ful in the intercourse betwixt the two sexes. Equality of 
mind is indispensably necessary in the married state, and 
the man can only expect to find happiness in this condition 
when the wife, as far as the powers of her nature will 
permit, and yet with the full independence of womanhood, 

yields to his opinions and recognises his wiU as her own 

But I have departed from the subject of your narrative. 

It was a very peculiar — but in the innocence of a pro- 
gressing mind not yet unfolded to itself — a very natural 
and praiseworthy state of heart which led you most ardently 
to desire to possess a friend, to the exclusion of every other 
wish. In this we recognise clearly the difference between 
love and friendship; — both equally consist of that life of 
the soul, under the influence of which two persons meeting 
each other, and appearing individually to give up their ex- 
istence the one to the other, yet receive it back again in 
a brighter and purer form. A man must possess some 
external object to which he can attach himself, upon which 
he may work with all the collected powers of his existence. 
But although this inclination is common to all, yet it is the 
privilege of the sensitive and highly-cultivated soul alone 
to feel the desire, the aspiration after true friendship and 
true love. Minds less delicately constituted, or blunted by 
the world, form but transitory and changing attachments ; 
they never attain to the tranquillity which results from a 
perfect exchange of sympathy. Viewed in reference to each 
other, love and friendship, under every form and circum- 
stance, differ in this respect, that the former is always 
coloured with sensuality ; but this does not militate against 

164 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

its excellence, for even, a sensual inclination may compre- 
hend -within itself the greatest purity. Love originates in 
the very soul, and changes the nature of all things subjected 
to its unspotted brightness. In young girls who have never 
once recognised the emotion of love, much less arrived at 
the consciousness of its existence in themselves, it is never- 
theless this emotion which lies veiled under the guise of 
friendship ; these two feelings are not yet clearly and de- 
finitely separated, but as womanhood approaches, every 
emotion passes insensibly into that of love. Even friend- 
ship, as it exists between two persons of the same sex, is at 
this period of life more energetic, more passionate, more 
yielding and sacrificing ; and although at a more advanced 
age friendship may lead us to perform the same actions, 
yet at an early stage of life it manifests itself differently; 
the tone of the emotion is more glowing, the soul is more 
thoroughly penetrated, and it shines through it with a 
clearer and warmer light. This was certainly your case at 
that time, dear Charlotte, in reference to your friend. 

I desire very much that you should continue your nar- 
rative; — I perceive no difficulties standing in the way of 
the completion of the first part ; but after a time, serious 
events, and to some extent sad and heavy trials, have to be 
narrated. Here, dear Charlotte, I leave it wholly for your 
own emotions to decide whether you can proceed further 
with the subject. It must depend completely upon yourself 
whether you can bear to awaken memories which, although 
they belong to a time long since gone by, may nevertheless 
still give you pain. Take care of yourself, — believe indeed 
that this is necessary for my mental tranquillity. I am 
often much afraid that you exert yourself too much in your 
occupations; — I would fain have it otherwise. Now fare- 
well, dear Charlotte, and believe me yours unchangeably 
and devotedly, H. 



Berlin, 226. Marcli 1825. 

I seat myself to commence writing to you, dear Char- 
lotte, with peculiar pleasure, and most sincerely do I hope 
that this sheet will find you well and cheerful. The firmest 
constitution, exposed to such remarkable weather as we are 
now experiencing, might easily sufier; — it appears as if 
winter had withdrawn entirely, that spring might arrive. 
Hitherto, thank God, my health has received no injury, 
and I think of going to Tegel, if not befoi'e Easter, at least 
immediately after. 

If we had to wait a whole year before the trees became 
green, it would be a time of sweet expectancy, as the hope 
of a good which is unfailing ever proves, because it arises 
from one which is in itself constant and enduring. Plea- 
sures which derive their origin from the contemplation of 
nature and natural changes, possess this peculiar feature, 
that they exercise a moral influence over the heart which 
thankfully receives them. 

There is a something great and wonderful in the in- 
variable regularity of nature, as manifested in all her opera- 
tions, even in her most ordinary phenomena, such as the 
daily rising and setting of the sun. This regularity, I say, 
combined with the beneficent influences which she pours 
forth upon mankind, gives to every emotion called forth 
by her influence a degree of gentleness both tranquillizing 
and elevating. In our rough northern climate we must 
indeed purchase the transition from autumn to spring with 
the bitter sensations of winter; we must patiently await 
the dawn of better things ; — but yet this great change has 
its advantages, for a powerful and deep impression is made 
upon us when we pass from that gloom which always ac- 

166 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

companies -winter, into the mild cheerfulness of spring. This 
we truly appreciate after a residence of some years in 
southern climes, where the winter is truly a spring, and it 
is impossible to distinguish more than three seasons. There, 
summer is indicated by its great heat, autumn by its fruits, 
and the remaining months of the year are characterized 
by the beautiful fresh verdure of the meadows and grassy 
ridges, and by the many ever-green trees which put forth 
more leaves, during which time neither cold nor disagreeable 
weather is experienced ; — there we pass through "winter into 
spring without remarking any particular change; but we 
lose entirely all those truly heavenly impressions which 
the changes of the seasons make upon the soul. It is in 
nature alone that I note the course of time. At one period 
men were accustomed to mark the course of the seasons by 
changes in their mode of life ; but this is not the case with 
me, for with the exception of an occasional change in my 
place of residence, my habits remain the same at every 
period of the year. This uniformity in my life naturally 
results from my going out so little in winter, and the con- 
stancy with which I pursue my occupations; for except 
from three to five in the afternoon, from eight to eleven 
in the morning, and at night, you would always find me, 
dear Charlotte, sitting thoughtfully by my writing-table in 
my study ; and as the few visits I make are paid in the 
above-mentioned intervals of time, there are scarcely any 
exceptions to the rule. 

The further we advance in life, the more are we charmed 
by serious reflexion, if we are capable of it. We may in- 
deed say that it is the only occupation which can then 
delight us. It is a pleasure which increases by habit ; one 
thought gives birth to another, and new fields of medita- 
tion arise out of half-formed deductions or mere sui-mises. 
We do not thereby — for indeed I have no desire to bestow 
unconditional praise on this kind of soUtary thought — we 
do not thereby become more attractive to others ; on the 


contrary, we rather separate ourselves from them, we re- 
pulse certain things from us, we feel generally a desire and 
a necessity of making ourselves and our own modes of 
thinking predominant, and where we can discern no op- 
portunity for their introduction we quickly draw back even 
when our doing so is undeserving of approval; — we feel 
convinced that we can only move forward in one fixed track, 
and therefore desire that those who would accompany us 
should follow the self-same route. AU tliis may be dis- 
advantageous, but everything that is human has its peculiar 
inconveniencies, and the contemplative soul, retired within 
its own sphere of thought and entertaining no wish to 
leave it, recognises and obtains such an equivalent for aU 
these disadvantages, that it would never desire on their 
account alone to sever itself from this habit j — indeed when 
we have once obtained the means by which an otherwise 
weU-constituted and meditative mind may tranquillize itself, 
it is not our duty to separate ourselves from them, for there 
always proceeds a something from every self-chosen train of 
thought, commenced in accordance with our own resolu- 
tions, which operates both widely and influentially ; and 
unless we are free and independent, the unrestrained em- 
ployment of our intellectual activity cannot be enjoyed. 

You wUl have learned from my letter of the 8th of this 
month, dear Charlotte, with how much pleasure and interest 
I have perused the new part of your autobiography. Since 
that time it has frequently occupied my thoughts. It 
happens now much less frequently than formerly, that 
young persons are compelled to marry those who are by no 
means the objects of their choice. This leads me to think 
that the world is become better, more gentle and more just. 
We then for the first time learn to elevate ourselves above 
external circumstances and conditions, when we come to 
know how to secure internal happiness; and although it 
sometimes happens that, to obtain this end, false and decep- 

168 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

tive courses are pursued, yet on the whole much is gained 
by this justice and mildness, by this recognition of the free- 
dom of the person to decide, whose future life is involved in 
the decision. 

Under compulsory circumstances, nothing can be worse 
than the adoption of a resolution similar to that formed by 
your friend, — namely, to enter upon a new engagement with- 
out renouncing a previously-formed connexion. When this 
is the case, although the purest sacrifice may be made, and 
the greatest morality observed, yet it is an unnatural state 
of heart — it is a union which can never receive that 
spiritual blessing without which nothing thrives. You think 
that the second marriage did not secure to her the ex- 
pected amount of happiness — and this can scarcely ever 
fail to be the case. The first charm of an early love, 
formed in accordance with one's desires, which does not 
hastUy pass away, bat unites with every emotion, giving 
happiness to all, is blunted by deferred hope ; it forms 
for itself a picture in the distance, which after a time 
ceases to correspond with truth. Union with a man under 
circumstances wanting in all that belongs to the married 
state necessarily implants a thorn in the heart, which con- 
tinues to exist even when the grave has received him, and 
when he no longer has it in his power to excite disquieting 
emotions. Thus that internal tranquillity fails, without 
which no happiness can exist. 

No more for to-day. I wiU soon write again, dear 
Charlotte. — With the sincerest sympathy, unchangeably 
yours, H. 



Berlin, April 6, 1825. 

I have derived very great pleasure from the perusal of 
your circumstantial letter of the 20th of the preceding 
month, and thank you most sincerely for it. I rode out on 
Thursday the 24th, and thought that upon mj return I 
should find a letter from you, and truly when I came back 
there it lay upon the table. I recognise very thankfully 
this punctuality on your part and this attention to my 

It makes me very happy to think that the time has 
nearly elapsed when so much exertion will be required on 
your part, for although your income is increased by it, yet 
I fear for your health ; and besides it gives me yet greater 
pain to know that you are so much harassed and annoyed, 
when I would so willingly see you possessed of more leisure 
time, much as I honour labour and active esei'tion. I shall 
receive with the greatest interest your next letter, and 
with it the abstract of your income and expenditure ; and 
taking so lively, so deep an interest in this subject, I will 
make myself fully acquainted both with its general and 
particular statements, and will know how you are circum- 
stanced in this respect — whether your position is one of 
certainty or not. It would be a never-failing source of 
gratification to me, if I could but make such propositions 
as would be calculated to insure you a greater amount of 
ease and leisure than you now enjoy, and should at the 
same time prove agreeable to you. This may happen. Al- 
though labour is pleasing, yet leisure is just as beneficial, 
just as capable of producing happiness. This is particularly 
applicable to you, Avho wiUingly lead a life of sentiment and 
reflection, and the naturally thoughtful and sensitive turn 

VOL. J. Q 

170 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

of your disposition, the more than usually good education 
you have received, as well as the position in life you were 
originally destined to hold, render you well qualified to en- 
joy and to derive benefit from unconstrained leisure, which 
a man even of the highest rank can never obtain, but a 
female of the better class may alway command. Such are 
my wishes, and such are my intentions. I have mentioned 
them in that spii'it of perfect confidence, dear Charlotte, 
which you have permitted me, nay have even requested me 
to exercise, and without any circumlocution. I am con- 
scious of an earnest desire for your welfare, and of the 
sincerity of my sentiments towards you ; and I know that 
the line of conduct I pursue is right and good. If you 
should entertain a different view it will not astonish me, 
for our opinions vary according to the point from which we 
fonn them. It only increases my thankfulness, affection, 
and deep respect, to know that you give way to the views 
and opinions of him towards whom your sentiments incline, 
and that you yield to him, which is always the charac- 
teristic of a genuine, noble, female nature. It has there- 
fore given me the greatest pleasure to find that in this 
respect also you attend to my wish — in short, to speak it 
out, that you obey* me; for I repeat to you without dis- 
guise, that, however incomprehensible it may appear, I 
greatly love not merely that which this word denotes, but 
the word itself and all that is connected with it, and that 
not only the absence of self-will and the existence of an 
obedient spirit, but also the wilHng manifestations of this 
disposition, constitute, in my opinion, one of the most 
amiable features of elevated spiritual womanhood — of a 
nature which holds its merit and dignity in such conscious 
security as to know that by submission it cannot part with 
any one of its excellencies. 

* It could not prove difficult for me willingly to yield to this 
singular wliim on the part of so highly honoured a friend. 


You wish to know where I lived during 1786 and the 
years following. At that time I was residing in Berlin, 
where my mother lived during the winter. I remained 
there in the summer also, with my younger brother and a 
private tutor. We generally rode over on the Sunday to 
Tegel. I continued to reside in the city until the autumn 
of 1788, when with my brother and the same tutor I went 
to Frankfort on the Oder, where there was a University at 
that time. I remained there until Easter 1789, when with 
my tutor, but unaccompanied by my brother, I went to 
Gottingen. There my tutor left me, and for the first time 
in my life I found myself, at the age of twenty-two, alone. 
Thus you saw me in 1789 in Pyrmont, and I always think 
of that event with the greatest pleasure. The person who 
was with me at that time was not at all related to me, but 
was an acquaintance of my own choosing. 

At Easter 1790 my brother followed me to Gottingen, 
but shortly after Midsummer I travelled to Paris with the 
deceased Campe. He had been my first tutor, and from 
him I learnt in my third year to read and wi'ite. On our 
return we separated at Mayence, and I travelled alone into 
Switzerland, but came back to my mother at the end of the 
year, and received an appointment here in Berlin, but left 
and was married in 1791. And thus passed away these 
years, the events of which occurring to yourself you will, in 
accordance with your kind promise, next describe. 

Previous to this time I could not bring myself to tell you 
why you succeed so admirably in the descriptions you give 
of mental phenomena. The truth is, you yourself possess 
one of those beautiful feminine natures Avhich are but rarely 
found. Unless the soul be richly endowed with perceptive 
power, firmness, and sentiment, and be at the same time 
delicately and sensitively formed, we cannot perceive those 
low notes which might have called forth harmonizing vibra- 
tions within us; — but with a nature thus constituted we 
can recognise and distinguish in others, as well as in our- 

172 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

selves, intonations of sound the most gentle and almost 
imperceptible. This capacity constitutes the chief excellence 
in a character endowed with the highest qualities ; it is a 
gift of nature, but may be developed by early cultivation, 
by the practice of self-discipline, by avoiding everything 
ignoble, and by the cultivation of pure morality and a 
simple heart-felt piety. These mental qualities have ren- 
dered you more reflective, and have turned your attention 
to spiritual conditions, and with these tendencies there is 
associated a talent for description, language and composi- 
tion. It is thus I explain a fact so clearly displayed in 
every part of your autobiography, and in all your letters. 

Tegel, 14th. 

I have been here alone for some days, for this stormy 
weather induced me to leave my family behind in the city. 
There is truly nothing but storm and rain, yet I am quite 
well and happy, and shall be still more so when my wife 
and children join me. Notwithstanding the badness of the 
weather I took a walk both yesterday and to-day. At the 
time of sunset, and among woods, we are not so much in- 
convenienced by stormy weather, for it is generally milder 
at that hour, and the storm is only heard howling through 
the tops of the trees. Enough for this day. Farewell. — 
With unchangeable constancy and devotion, yours, 




Tegel, 1st May 1825. 

I have received, dear Charlotte, and have perused with 
great pleasure, your letter posted on the 19th April. I have 
found in it a repetition of those sentiments which I so highly 
value j indeed you have in this letter expressed them in 
language more than usually affectionate. I will answer it 
word for word. 

You are quite right. I was in error when I asserted 
that it was in the year 1789 we met in Pyrmont, This 
occurred a whole year earlier. But about the Easter of 
that year I certainly arrived for the first time in Gcittin- 
gen. I was wholly ignorant of the fact that you were in 
that year already betrothed; — I thought that this had 
taken place at a much later period. I am not wrong, how- 
ever, in reference to Campe; — he was indeed at that time 
teacher {Hauslehrer), or, as it was then called, private tutor 
{Hqfmeister) to an elder stepbrother of mine, a son of my 
mother's by her first marriage; — he taught me, however, 
to read and write, and must have left our house somewhere 
about the year 1770 or 1771, just about the time of your 
birth. His books for children might therefore very well 
have fallen into your hands when you were a child. After he 
left us, he first became a preacher, but quickly gave up his 
charge, and joined the Philanthrophic Institute of Dessau 
with Basedow. His journey, however, to Paris, in which 
I accompanied him, occurred in the year 1789, and there- 
fore later than when you and I first saw each other. From 
that time I never met him again. A circumstance has 
occurred this day which has further reminded me of the 
events of that year. In Jacobi's Correspondence, which 
has just appeared, there is a letter written by him to La- 

Q 2 

174 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

vater, to whom he introduced me in 1789 ; — during the 
same year I travelled into Switzerland. I experience the 
greatest pleasure in living over this period of my past ex- 
istence, and have forgotten but little of even the most 
trivial circumstances which occurred to me; — but I medi- 
tate with far greater pleasure upon the men with whom 
I then came in contact. During the very year in which 
you and I met, I had a kind of passion to become ac- 
quainted with great men, to know and accurately observe 
many such characters, and to form in my mind a picture 
of their habits and peculiai'ities. By this means I acquired 
at an early period of life such a knowledge of men as others 
but seldom attain even at a much later period. Knowledge 
was to me the chief consideration, and I used it to build 
up general principles. I classified men, compared them 
with each other, attentively considered their physiognomies, 
and in short made them, as far as I could, my peculiar 
study. Since that time, the information thus acquired has 
assisted me very much in my intercourse with men. I 
have learned to estimate every man as he must be appre- 
ciated in accordance with his character, and to carry on my 
projects assisted by those whose characters appeared suit- 
able to my designs; and that discriminating power which 
as a young man I endeavoured to exercise, has often most 
visibly assisted me in my more advanced years. I have 
not for a long time aimed at exercising an influence of this 
kind over any man. When a man has reached my time of 
life, he is partly unable to accommodate himself to such 
differences of character, and to a certain extent he should 
not desire it : he must preserve his individuality free, walk 
on with those who harmonize with it, have -no other desire 
than to shape his course in accordance with it, and be con- 
tent to accompany the rest of mankind with liis general 
good wishes alone. 

Are you not also impressed by the quick, the remarkably 
sudden appearance of spring this year? I think I have 


never before witnessed anything like it. An old cherry-tree 
here, which on the previous day exhibited nothing but naked 
branches, was within a single night covered witli blossoms. 

That melancholy feeling attendant upon the revival of 
nature, which is common to all men who think deeply and 
observe her operations accurately, is easily comprehended. 
It does not, to the smallest extent, interfere with our im- 
mediate interest in the awakening of nature; — it rather 
originates from the depth of this very emotion ; for every 
profound sentiment in man becomes naturally of itself of a 
sad character. Man feels his weakness, and the liability of 
his nature to change and perishableness ; and while in this 
existence which appears to threaten him only with misfor- 
tune and adversity, he perceives himself surrounded by the 
infinite goodness which nature pours forth at this opening 
season in order to enrich him with enjoyments of all kinds, 
he is deeply affected; — and this emotion can only express 
itself in melancholy joy. 

Another and more painful kind of melancholy may arise 
from this source, in accordance with different mental con- 
ditions. There are many who cannot regard the springing 
forth into renewed existence and activity of so great a 
variety of living forms, although not of the human kind, 
without at the same time thinking of their return to their 
wintry sleep and death, which event will as suddenly happen. 
That all life is but a progression towards destruction, can 
nowhere be so clearly seen as in the rolling seasons ; and to 
behold the whole vegetable world starting forth into life 
with innocent unsuspecting joy, as if it did not once anti- 
cipate its Avintry death, contains something as deeply af- 
fecting as the life of a child who as yet has not dreamt of 
danger. Farewell. — Unchangeably, with the most sincere 
and continuous affection, yours, H. 

176 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Tegel, 15th May 1825. 

Much as I love nature, willingly as I loiter with her, I 
have not been often abroad since my arrival in this place. 
I am accustomed to walk from six to eight in the evening 
when no visitors arrive, and this in such cold and rainy 
weather frequently happens. I prefer the evening to the 
morning hour on account of the sunset, which I am not 
easily indxiced to neglect witnessing daily. It has always 
appeared to me more beautiful than sunrise, although this 
may depend upon our being more tranquil and more easily 
impressed by nature in the evening, when the occupations 
of the day have been completed. 

I am occupied all day in my study, which on the south 
and south-western side looks directly upon the garden and 
the taU trees. I regard this constant intercourse with my 
independent thoughts and with subjects of my own choice, 
as forming my true life. My ideas, and that which has 
nourished them, whether in books or in meditations and 
experiences, occupy me almost entirely and exclusively ; and 
I can truly assert that, if not wholly, yet to a great extent, 
I have to thank them for that cheerfulness and happiness 
which I enjoy. My external circumstances merely furnish 
me with the means of quietly enjoying this spiritual life : I 
set no particular value on anything else in them. Although 
I did not enjoy this external leisure during the many years 
I was employed in business, yet I did not the less feel that 
I derived my equanimity — my constant tranquillity (out of 
which springs naturally benevolence towards men in all 
our relations with them) from this life in ideas separated 
from all outward trivialities. For even when the mind is 
compelled by circumstances to occupy itself with other sub- 


jects, yet those ideas remain, like the bed in which a river 
flows, and share their clear tranquillity with the soul. The 
truly pious man lives peculiarly in this state ; and when he 
is free from aU hypocrisy and self-deception, — when he 
walks in humility and truth, no addition can be made to 
the peace which springs from such a source. If we have 
but once accustomed ourselves to this life in ideas, sorrow 
and misfortune lose their sting : we may be sad, we may be 
melancholy, but never impatient or destitute of counsel. 
Having once formed this habit, I always combine this me- 
ditation with my literary occupations ; but at every step I 
endeavour to raise myself to independent ideas ; which then 
connect themselves with aU that belongs to the ideal world, 
as well as with all that is essentially bright, attractive, and 
enduring in the world of reality. In this elevated region of 
thought, the ideas which previously appeared but as learned 
occupations destined only for the few, become again sim- 
plified, and blended into union with all that possesses a 
universal interest for man. 

I rejoice to think you will receive this letter on Whit- 
sunday, which is always pleasing to you. — With unchange- 
able constancy, yours, H. 

178 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, 21st May 1825. 

The marriage-festival of the Princess Louisa has com- 
pelled me to come each succeeding day into the city; but 
as I am so attached to the country, I come in late, and 
return as soon as the object of my visit is accomplished. 
For this reason I can write but little to you this day. I 
found your letter of the 15th here, and thank you most 
sincerely for it. It has pleased me very much to find that 
I did not err in the expectation that I should hear from you 
to-day, but it pains me to knoAv that you have been and 
perhaps are still sorrowful: your candid and immediate 
avowal of the fact has however gratified me. 

The Whitsunday festival is above all others pleasing and 
elevating to the mind, diverting it from trivial affairs, 
exciting greater hope, and prompting to the formation of 
worthy resolutions. The celebration of festivals, whether 
considered in reference to their origin, or to the events 
they are intended to commemorate, is calculated to confirm 
our resolutions to employ ourselves seriously, actively, and 
worthily. Apart from religious considerations, they are 
useful to subdivide the year, the monotonous uniformity of 
which would otherwise necessarily produce a sense of weari- 
ness. Life appears longer when it is thus subdivided into 
smaller portions ; — and this is something more than a mere 
deception of the imagination ; — but even if it were really 
nothing more, it would not be proper to undervalue it. 
Life would be inconceivably poor without the charm which 
fancy bestows upon it ; and although it may be true that 
it often brings vain fears and idle hopes, yet it far more 
frequently happens that its illusions wear a pleasing and 
flattering form, rather than one which is calculated to in- 


spire fear. This, however, depends to a great extent upon 
ourselves and upon our mental dispositions, which, although 
it is not in our power entirely to change, we yet may 
influence by a variety of means ; for there exists in every 
sensitive mind a leading sentiment, upon which all other 
emotions are more or less dependent: if this be of a gay 
and cheerful nature, it wiU communicate a like tone to the 
whole soul ; but if duU care and a feeling of hope deferred 
are blended with it, then all will be sad and sorrowful. 
Your question, — how far we can devote ourselves to a 
beloved object, and yet remain acceptable to God? — is of 
very great moral importance. You have yourself very 
correctly determined the limits within which this may 
occur, but I think you have omitted some considerations 
which bear upon the subject. First, I take it for granted 
that nothing can be displeasing to God which is in accord- 
ance with a pure and exalted moral perception. This is 
certainly your opinion also. In these things God has also 
this moral perception, and especially that moral feeling 
which, making still finer distinctions, may reject even that 
which the perception does not wholly disapprove. But if 
we go further, and believe that there may be unpermitted 
things against which morality nevertheless enters no special 
protest, — this would appear to me to be either an exag- 
gerated statement, or a want of sensitiveness in the moral 
perceptions. I maintain, that whatever is not disapproved 
by a pure moral sense cannot be displeasing to God. Man 
can pronounce only a human judgment. Besides, I cannot 
think we need entertain any fear of placing a created being 
upon an equality with God in our love. God wishes to be 
loved by us, by the love which we bear towards his crea- 
tures. An " idolatrous love" is rather a mere expression 
than a sentence embodying a distinct idea, for no reasonable 
person can in any way compare a weak perishable man with 
the Most High : such a comparison could only result from 


unregulated passion ; and we shall certainly find that such 
a love is never so pure and free from stain, even towards 
the object of its idolatry, as to enable it to stand blameless 
before the tribunal of a free, enlarged moral sense. Thus 
everything comes back to the same point. 

You must perfectly understand me, dear Charlotte: — 
When I speak of a moral sense, I always mean one which is 
thoroughly purified by being conjoined with a true and 
sincere piety: mere morality, apart from religion, may 
easily wander from the true path. Neither do I mean a 
moral sense which is uncertain and indistinct : it must be 
based upon knowledge and clear insight, and it should 
never be allowed to go beyond these, except to such an 
extent as may enable us to discriminate with more delicacy 
and certainty, — just as the deep-felt music of a song adds 
something to the mere literal sense of the words. An in- 
clination, the gratification of which is permitted by such a 
moral sense, needs not anxiously to require that limits be 
assigned to it : whatever point it may attain, it will always 
remain a pure, a pious desire, which can never confound 
the Creator with the created, and will never be tempted 
away from the former. 

It is undoubtedly true that God can remove the object 
of our afiections at any time ; but if our love be such as I 
have described, the event, though it may cast us into pro- 
found grief, will not deprive us of our consistency and firm- 
ness, for a religious moral sense could never have approved 
of the afiection, had it not been of such a nature as would 
prompt us in such a case to surrender ourselves with 
humility to the dispensations of Providence. All the rest 
appears to me easily to explain itself. 


It is delightful above all things to meditate upon the 
past, and to look back upon the events of former years. 
Whatever in that past has once influenced our minds, — 


whatever has once been conceived and experienced, has 
determined the present state of our reflective and perceptive 
faculties, and the tendency of our desires. 


The fixed undeviating connexion which exists in man 
between each and every one of his mental states, is one of 
the most wonderful and incomprehensible facts in his na- 
ture. It is impossible to suppose that thoughts and emotions 
can lie as it were locked up in the soul or heart : they must 
be so connected with each other, that when one presents 
itself in a certain way to the mind, others shall immediately 
follow, like the vibrations of the string of a musical instru- 
ment. Hence it must in this way result, that at every 
period of our life our whole previous existence stands always 
in connexion with our present, — and thus whatever is at 
any moment going on within us is much more closely 
related to the past than we are generally accustomed to 


We can never entertain a single purpose oi'iginating in 
deep feeling, without its being liable to be called enthusias- 
tic and extravagant by men of cold and unexcitable dis- 
positions. The reason is, that it passes completely beyond 
the round of mere everyday life, and requires that the feel- 
ings shall be more than usually excited, without being at 
the same time diminished in delicacy, before it can be duly 


VOL. J. R 



Teqel, 6th June 1825. 

I should have written to you, dear Charlotte, the day 
before yesterday, but I preferred waiting the arrival of 
your letter, thinking that you would like a speedy answer ; 
and since I have become acquainted with its contents, my 
previous determination has gratified me very much ; for I 
have no doubt but that what I shall say will impart greater 
clearness to your thoughts, and wherever this reigns, tran- 
quillity exists, or at least it gradually developes itself. 

Yesterday I received your letter, and I thank you most 
sincerely for every mark of love and confidence it contains, 
— all of which I recognise and appreciate as they deserve. 
You may rest assured that I am far from making the 
slightest complaint against you, even in the most secret 
recesses of my heart, and that to the greatest possible ex- 
tent I see into your nature, and feel most thankfully the 
rare, delicate, sincere, and firm attachment you entertain 
for me. You may also perceive from my letters how I 
enter into all your thoughts, how I solve your difficulties, and 
with how much pleasure I reply to all your questions ; and 
although this is not done from a mere desire to display my 
thankfulness, but is prompted by a sincere attachment to- 
wards you, and an unaffected interest in your welfare, it 
may nevertheless be accepted by you as an additional proof 
of my gratitude. I have not, nor can I ever forget, that 
throughout a long life you have retained your early senti- 
ments towards me ; and as little can I forget that in con- 
fidence you have disclosed to me the rich treasures of your 
highly gifted mind; — and this, as I have frequently before 
remarked, is a rare treasure for a man to enjoy. 


I am very sorry to find you, dear Charlotte, always 
complaining of despondency and of deep melancholy. This 
state of mind I cannot approve: — you must contend ear- 
nestly against it. I ascribe this mental condition to a too 
close application to your employment during the winter 
months, although in part it is certainly dependent upon 
constitutional causes. It must not be forgotten that we 
require to be trained to continued exertion, — indeed I may 
say we must be born to it, before we can hope to jjractise 
it with impunity. This was far from being your case, for 
you always enjoyed unlimited leisure, until circumstances, 
at an age when the vigour of early life had fled, deter- 
mined your present position. Although I highly esteem 
both your perseverance and determination, yet it grieves 
me deeply that it should be so, and that it was not possible 
to obtain a recompense for your losses, and thus to effect a 
complete change in your position. 

If you correctly understand my letters, it is impossible 
that they should add to your mental distress. You must 
see in every line of them that I am filled with deep sym- 
pathy and afiectionate regard for you — that I would not wish 
you to be at all otherwise than you are, and that it would 
afford me sincere pleasure to know that you were cheerful 
and happy — that I would immediately remove every cir- 
cumstance disagreeable to you, and would joyfully promote 
your happiness as far as my years and my nature will 
permit. Ever remain assured of the truth of these asser- 
tions. You will constantly find me the same, and indeed 
it were greatly to he lamented if you were to make your- 
self unhappy without cause, or to entertain cares which 
were utterly devoid of foundation. It appears to me that 
our relative position is as definite as it can possibly be. 
You know your own sentiments; and as to mine, I have 
preserved from youth unto advanced life the memory of our 
meeting, and the interest which, fleeting as it was, it pro- 
duced. I have rejoiced in the opportunity since afforded 

184 w. VON Humboldt's letters, 

me of giving utterance to this sympathy; it still exists 
in me active and sincere, and, as you know, I derive most 
unquestionable gratification from the communication of your 
thoughts and sentiments. This calm and delightful inter- 
course, which is so well adapted both to my years and my 
wishes, we may uninterruptedly carry on as long as our 
pilgrimage in life shall continue ; for on my part there is 
nothing that can interfere with it, and I know of no cir- 
cumstance on yours which should interrupt it. If this be 
satisfactory to you — and I am fully persuaded that it is 
so — then is our intercourse as pure as it is possible to 
imagine. Do not suppose for a single moment that you 
are the only gainer by our correspondence : I have often 
told you that your letters, the unafiected assurances of your 
attachment, and the narrative of your life, have given and 
continue to give me the greatest delight. Whenever I 
have thought that you could render me any particular 
gratification, I have, as you have seen, freely and unreserv- 
edly mentioned it; and if you could not grant my desire, 
I have withdrawn my request, entertaining no other feeling 
than simply that two persons could not think exactly alike, 
and most assuredly without a single emotion of anger or 
complaint — without, as I can with truth assert, a single 
feeling which could in any way have proved disagreeable 
to you. Such a difference of opinion, dear Charlotte, must 
not grieve you either. There are already so many things 
which are calculated to sadden the happiest life, that we 
must not intentionally add to their number. Certainly a 
tendency to melancholy is not a voluntary condition ; but 
we have it in our power to struggle against it. This indeed 
requires self-command; — and thus I come back to my 
position, that all men stand in need of this power. 

Now I think, dear Charlotte, that I have spoken so 
openly upon this subject, that to you at least there can 
be nothing obscure or mysterious about me. I must now 
correct a part of your letter in which you show that you 


have completely misunderstood me. You say that I am 
sufficient to myself — that I require nothing more to render 
me hai:)py. This is certainly correct ; and however rigor- 
ously I may search my own heart, I cannot find anything 
blameable in this condition : it is rather the fruit of a long 
life devoted to the realization of this end. I live in senti- 
ment, meditations, and ideas: these are the means by 
which I elevate myself above all foreign assistance; and 
as my thoughts are directed towards imperishable things, 
they will not permit me to despond when my expectations 
fail, as I have often experienced when misfortunes befel me. 
It is only when in this sense a man wants nothing, that 
he can be considered free from egotism ; for when we re- 
quire nothing for ourselves, we can be far more useful to 
others. We then enjoy every pleasure to a much greater 
extent, because it is no longer a necessity, but a pure addi- 
tion to the happiness of our existence. All that has the 
character of a necessity has this peculiarity: its presence 
affords us a less amount of pleasure than its absence does of 
pain. On this account I feel the loss of a beloved friend more 
deeply than other men do, although I may endure it with 
more calmness and resolution ; — and I have experienced this 
more than once. But I do not contrast sorrow with hap- 
piness: I subdivide sensations of happiness into sorrowful 
and cheerful, and do not consider the one as less essential 
than the other. This is the sense in which I intended those 
remarks to be taken which you have misunderstood. If 
you look through all my past letters, you will find the same 
sentiments constantly repeated. That solitary passages may 
not appear otherwise I will not assert, for it is not possible 
always to define everything distinctly. 

When you assert that the word " inconsistent " is not 
very pleasing to you, you certainly mean the perverted use 
of the word; — real consistency you surely approve and 
value as highly as I do, — it means only the steady observ- 
ance of admitted principles. — Farewell. Depend with cer- 

R 2 

186 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

tainty upon the unchangeableness of my sentiments ; above 
all, avoid indulging in useless cares, make yourself cheerful, 
and remember that by so doing you will give me pleasure, 
and this you always do willingly. — Sincerely yours, 




BUEGORNEE, Aug. 18, 1825. 

I have been here some days^ and have ah'eady enjoyed 
the feeling which accompanies a residence in a province or 
district far removed from the precincts of any great city. 
In such a position I always find myself particularly happy ; 
1 experience a most peculiar pleasure ; I am entirely free 
from the anxieties of life, and can even very well dispense 
with public news. Under these circumstances I am accus- 
tomed to follow out my occupations in accordance with a 
uniform plan, and I endeavour as far as possible to adhere 
to one train of thought. I have ahvays felt a great desire 
to penetrate profoundly into a subject ; and I have fre- 
quently had opportunities of experiencing in myself both 
the advantages and disadvantages of such a plan; — for it 
cannot be denied that this partiality towards the same oft- 
repeated employment, this poring over one and the same 
idea, exercises a limiting, contracting, and therefore hurtful 
influence upon our minds ; — indeed, deep reflection produces 
the same result as dissipation of thought — that is to say, 
that in both many things are passed over unnoticed, and 
many are unskilfully handled, — the only difference being, 
that a man in the latter state fritters away his mind in no- 
things, and neither finds nor possesses anything to which he 
can attach himself; whilst, on the other hand, the profound 
thinker always has some one thing, which compensates 
him for the neglect of all others. Most prejudicial do I 
find this disposition (viz. to give myself up to one sub- 
ject) when in the open air, which then for the most part 
consists of an abstract thought. My love for nature is un- 
bounded, — and the enjoyment which I derive from the 

188 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

contemplation of even an unvaried country, to say no- 
thing of that which one of greater beauty confers upon 
me, exceeds perhaps all others ; but the impression which 
nature makes upon my mind always connects itself with the 
train of thought with which I maybe occupied; — it be- 
comes transformed into a general sentiment, whilst on the 
other hand a great many individual features escape my 
attention. I could never have been a naturalist ; and cer- 
tainly I have permitted many objects, both in the mineral 
and vegetable kingdoms, to pass by unnoticed ; yet I could 
not divest myself of this meditative tendency, and was not 
only unable to exchange it for a habit of an opposite 
character, but I could not readily bring myself to adopt 
that middle course between the two extremes which we are 
accustomed to regard, and justly so, as the best we can 
pursue. We learn, however, to understand more thoroughly 
those subjects to which we attach ourselves exclusively and 
with stability of purpose ; the longer we contemplate them, 
the more inexhaustible do they appear. Indeed we cannot 
assert that the things of this world ever fully disclose to us 
all that is contained within them. One person recognises 
features which another fails to observe ; and it would appear 
as if human perception itself, when sharpened by a due 
amount of thought, first brings to light its own object. 
For this reason, to those who possess a meditative tendency 
the simplest matter often proves sufficient to occupy their 
attention for a long time, and in a way by no means fruit- 
less or unprofitable. In particular, I have always observed 
that this constant meditation, when apjilied to outward ob- 
jects, and not to mere thoughts, discovers what in them has 
been the work of time: we recognise traces of the past within 
the present, and indeed we frequently gain faint glimpses 
of that future towards which it tends. A charm of the 
highest description always lies in such results as these ; for 
whatever is calculated to throw light upon the course the 
stream of Time may take, proves to us a source of unspeak- 


able delight. And this is perfectly natural; — for we are 
but the creatures of time ; our fate rests upon it as on the 
surface of an ever-agitated sea, on which we never know 
whether we can safely trust the present, and whether a 
deceitful future is not awaiting us. This deep insight into 
the subject contemplated is but the least of the advantages 
for which we are indebted to the habit of meditation; for 
you might very justly reply that there are but few subjects 
which deserve such profound investigation. But the gain 
which accrues to the soul from this concentration of its 
powers upon a fixed point — from this contentedness with 
a few subjects upon which it may isolate itself, — is the 
most important. There arises necessarily from this source 
a greater spiritual earnestness, a more lofty enthusiasm, a 
love with which we embrace that with which we feel our- 
selves to be, as it were, alone in the world ; and this becomes 
in its turn a means by which the character is influenced, — 
or rather, since here no external influence comes into play, 
and this habit proceeds from the mind itself, the character 
developes itself thereby, and unfolds within itself a higher 
dignity and a more expressive beauty. For there are ideas 
which have grown up with us, which accompany us as 
friends, guides, and consolers, from which we can never be 
separated ; and these ideas, which thus chng to our nature, 
are always the most peciiliar; they are often quite incom- 
prehensible to others, or are understood by them only after 
many years; — and this does not depend upon the fact that 
they are either too lofty or too obscure, as is generally sup- 
posed, but simply upon the impossibility of viewing them 
apart from the individual with whom they are indissolubly 

In reference to ideas of this kind, I could never relin- 
quish the most trifling of them without a complete change 
in my former convictions. Nothing could compensate me 
for such a loss, and any sacrifice we might be called upon 
to make for the sake of deep, long-existing convictions. 

190 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

must in truth be but small in comparison witb the loss of 
the idea itself. The firmness which is thus manifested is not 
intellectual egotism; it does not even arise solely from the 
understanding. For although it has its origin in the under- 
standing, in the same way as our convictions of those ob- 
jects with which this firmness is associated, yet in the mind 
which is accustomed to devote itself wholly and in a manner 
exclusively to one idea and the object connected with it, 
there is combined with this firmness, — warmth, sentiment, 
and a peculiar love. In virtue of this tone of mind the 
whole life is rendered more spiritual; and when it has be- 
come inherent in us, it maintains, as I have experienced at 
different periods of my hfe, the same spirituality even amid 
great outward changes. It renders whoever possesses it 
independent of all external influences. Especially is the 
necessity of associating ourselves Avith outward objects there- 
by diminished, for the love awakened by a j)urely spiritual 
idea already supplies its place. Where, however, something 
external cooperates with the idea, the effect is doubly strong 
and enduring. The ideas which thus accompany us through- 
out life are also naturally those which best prepare us to 
bear its loss; for as life derives its chief value from them, 
and they are united with the profoundest energies of our 
souls, I cannot conceive why, being that which most pecu- 
liarly belongs to us, they should not accompany us into 
another state of existence. It is indeed to be hoped, and 
with faith to be expected, that they will attend upon the 
soul, brighter, clearer, and in new and more manifold appli- 

It has aff'orded me the greatest happiness to find it 
expressed in your letter, and to perceive in its general tone, 
that you are again cheerful and contented, — that you have 
once more acknowledged that it is my desire to make you 
so. Most assuredly I entertained no other than these kindly 
sentiments towards you, when our correspondence com- 
menced a few years ago. I believe my sentiments have 


remained constantly the same, and you may depend upon 
them still further with perfect confidence. The principles 
according to which I regulate my conduct do not originate 
in caprice, and as little are they founded upon selfish de- 
sires. It has also given me much pleasure to find, as was 
formerly the case, this fuU and perfect confidence conjoined 
in you with aifectionate interest and devoted regard. Con- 
tinue, dearest Charlotte, to hold these sentiments inviolate, 
and nothing can ever happen to disturb our intercourse. 

You are quite right in disliking consistency when it is 
mere obstinate caprice which assumes that noble name : such 
consistency is nothing but reprehensible hypocrisy. But we 
must not regard everything as caprice the foundation of 
which we do not clearly perceive, or which rests upon a 
foundation which we have not capacity to comprehend: 
this would be falling into an opposite e^itreme. Still less 
should we give the name of consistency to that quality of 
the mind which leads one obstinately to maintain an opinion 
he no longer regards as true ; this would be nothing but a 
mere love of wrangling, or the weakness which would render 
us unmlling to confess before others that we have been in 
error. Whenever we discover that such is the case, we 
ought to feel no difficulty in avowing the fact to others. 
I do not value that state of mind which would induce us to 
wrap ourselves up in our principles, opinions, and senti- 
ments, and to regard them as true, simply because we have 
long considered them in this light. I wovild much rather 
apply new tests to them, and if even the very principle to 
which I was most attached were suddenly to appear to me 
in a new light, I should not conceal it for a single moment. 
I would then not only abandon my former opinion, but I 
would unhesitatingly avow that I had abandoned it. It is 
however precisely when we are thus disposed, that we are 
less likely to coincide in the opinions of others, for we are 
then ourselves inclined to meditation, and the principles 
and opinions which we entertain are based upon these medi- 

192 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

tations, and are such as we do not readily exchange for 
others, however open we may hold ourselves to the results 
of new investigations. 

You say that during the past week you have been en- 
gaged in serious self-examination, and that you have nar- 
rowly scrutinized the recesses of your heart; — you must 
therefore have experienced how beneficial this is. I always 
return from such examinations (which I regard as our best 
and noblest employment) with a cheerfulness not easily to 
be disturbed. By self-examination we discover either that 
our state of mind is one which it is desirable to retain, and 
that nothing more is necessary, in order to enjoy greater 
light and distinctness of thought, than that we analyze and 
clear it from complications, — and this is certainly your 
case; or, we are compelled to blame and feel dissatisfied 
with ourselves, — the result of which is, that we change our 
sentiments and force ourselves to adopt that course which 
either through error, weakness, or some other perversity, 
we had previously rejected, and in the consciousness of 
having returned to the right path, Ave enjoy a new and 
now securely established happiness. — Farewell. Remain 
cheerful and calm, and depend upon the constancy and un- 
changeableness of my sentiments. H. 



BuRGORNEK, Sept. 6, 1825. 

It is near midnight when I begin this letter to you, 
although this is but Tuesday, and it cannot leave before 
Friday. In correspondence, I have a habit (not altogether 
commendable) of following my own inclinations as to the 
time at which I should write, rather than attending to the 
post-days. In a confidential correspondence like ours, this 
is not well. It is natural to wish that such letters should 
reach the hands of those for whom they are intended as 
quickly as possible. But other letters, such as refer to 
things with which the soul has little or no concern, may, 
not improperly, lie by a few days. We may perhaps have 
occasion to alter them. 

Your remarks in reference to the influence which a quicker 
or slower rate of the circulation of the blood exerts upon 
the mind, are perfectly true j and in judging of others, we 
ought not to lose sight of this fact. At the same time it 
is a beautiful attribute of our nature, a privilege granted 
by the Creator to man exclusively, and before all the other 
creatures of this world, that he feels that by thought and 
resolution he can control and govern every physical influ- 
ence, however powerful it may be. An inward voice pro- 
claims to us that we are free and independent : it imputes 
to us good and evil, and in the judgments which we pass 
on ourselves, which must be always more rigid and severe 
than those of others, we must entirely throw out of sight 
all such physical influences. Man is the subject of two dis- 
tinct jurisdictions, that of dependence and that of freedom, 
and the mere understanding is not sufficient to settle the 
strife between them. In the visible world all things seem 
to be so connected together, that if we were acquainted 

VOL. I. S 

194 w. VON Humboldt's LETTERS. 

with all possible occurrences, even the smallest and most 
remote, we could show that at every moment of time we 
were compelled by necessity to act exactly as we did act. 
And yet we stiU feel within us the conviction that if we 
did but wiU it, we could grasp the revolving wheel, and 
free ourselves from the chain that binds us to it. In this 
consciousness of his freedom lies the true dignity of man. 
This also it is whereby he leaves the world of dependence 
and enters that of freedom. For in the material, nothing 
can be free, — in the spiritual, nothing can be held in bond- 
age. The only way in which we can reconcile this opposi- 
tion, is by supposing that there is a sovereignty of the world 
of freedom as a whole, over the world of dependence as a 
whole, which in single events only we are unable to com- 
prehend, but which so conducts the concatenated series of 
events, throughout the ages, that they must at all times 
correspond with the determinations of free will. 

In whatever light I may view your physical condition, 
dear Charlotte, it yet seems to me very much to depend 
upon the state of your mind. Endeavour, therefore, above 
all things, to render yourself in all respects cheerful and 
tranquil. It it is indeed easier to say this than to do it, 
but yet much may be accomplished if we will but set before 
us clearly and distinctly, all that is productive of anxiety, 
and recal to mind all with which we can feel content, or 
which may afford cause for thankfulness. If the mind 
succeeds in banishing the diseased or morbid condition en- 
tirely from itself, and in confining it to the body alone, an 
infinite amount of good is realized. After this we may en- 
dure physical suffering with determination, and not merely 
with apparent but real tranquillity; indeed we may not 
merely endure it, but it may be made to exert a purifying 
and softening influence on the soul. I have myself been 
frequently unwell, and twice dangerously so, but I have 
never suffered from continuous ill health, or from what may 
be termed a weak constitution. I have, however, had fre- 


quent intercourse with both men and women whose daily 
condition was of this nature, and who had no hope of re- 
lease except by death. Schiller especially belonged to this 
class; — he suffered constantly and severely, and knew well, 
as ultimately proved to be the case, that these continual 
sufferings would gradually lead him to the tomb. Yet of 
him it might be truly said that he held his sufferings con- 
fined to the body. For at whatever time you might visit 
him — under whatever circumstances you might find him, 
he was always tranquil and cheerful, inclined to friendly 
intercourse, and to interesting and even profound conversa- 
tion. He was even accustomed to say that a man worked 
the better when suffering under a certain degree of illness, 
provided only it were not too severe; and I have often 
found him under circumstances of the most uncheering 
nature, composing poems and essays, in which it would 
have been imposible to discover a trace of the influences 
under which they were written. 

When debility is associated with an excited state of the 
circulation, with disquiet or with much anxiety, and this 
state continues for many years, I can comprehend that it is 
particularly adapted to induce weariness of life ; but against 
this state we should contend with all our energies. I will 
not at once fall back upon the position that this is an ex- 
press religious duty : but life, even when extended to its 
utmost limit, is so short when compared with eternity, of 
the nature of our existence in which we are unable, at least 
beforehand, to form any conception, that we should not 
desire to limit it still more by our wishes, but rather con- 
duct ourselves in it as well as we are able ; and certainly it 
is far more important how we accept our fortune, than 
what that fortune really may be. It is a proverbial ex- 
pression that every man creates his own lot. We are 
accustomed to regard this as implying that every man, by 
the folly or wisdom of his actions, prepares good or evil for 
himself. But we may view it in another light, — namely, 

196 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

that we may so accommodate ourselves to the dispensations \ 
of Providence, as to be happy in our lot, whatever may be ^ 
its privations. 

Bestow upon me your affectionate remembrances, and be 
assured of mine. My thoughts dwell oftener upon you than 
you imagine. — Yours, H. 

If you write to me by the 20th, you letter will still find 
me here in Burgorner; — if later, in Berlin. 

LETTER L. 197 


BuRGORNEK, Sept. 26, 1825. 

I have received, dear Charlotte, your letter commenced 
on the 4th, and concluded on the 6th of this month, and I 
return you my warmest thanks for the kind and affectionate 
expressions towards me which it contains. But I have re- 
marked with sorrow that you again complain of the des- 
pondent state of your mind, of a feeling of desolation and 
of joylessness; and that you beseech me to bear with you — 
to regard you as a patient, and treat you with indulgence. 
Upon this subject, dear Charlotte, you need entertain no 
anxiety, for you by no means stand in need of my forbear- 
ance; there is nothing displeasing to me in this strain — it 
only pains me to know that you should suffer from such 
a state of mind; and therefore do not attempt to excuse 
yourself. I could wish that you were cheerful, and in a 
more comfortable frame of mind, that you were content both 
with your position and your occupations, that you could 
pass the remaining portion of your life happily. But I can 
weU imagine how a series of adverse circumstances should 
intimidate and depress the mind ; and that feeling of con- 
fidence which leads you to teU me whenever this state of 
depression supervenes, is very dear to me. I believe of 
course that we can do much to avert such a state, or, if it 
has established itself, to change it into one of a happier 
nature. But at the same time I am quite willing to grant, 
that what one person, under certain circumstances, may find 
possible and even not very difficult to accomplish, may to 
another, and under difTei'ent circumstances, prove almost 
impracticable. In reference, therefore, to such a despon- 
dent state, not a word is to be said of " displeasure," and 

8 2 

198 w. VON Humboldt's letters, 

and nothing expressed but sincere sympathy. Meanwhile 
I am convinced that it will not long continue, but will soon 
pass away. If you will permit me to advise you, I would 
say, Take care at such a time, turn your thoughts as little 
as possible upon yourself, seek rather to employ yourself 
about outward matters, — by which I do not so much mean 
your usual occupations, as some other self-chosen employ- 
ment, and also reading or writing, — and leave the rest to 
time. You yourself very justly remark that this is the best 
and most effectual remedy for such a condition. I under- 
stand perfectly well that state of mind which you par- 
ticularly mention. You designate it, most correctly, with 
your usual clearness and felicity of expression, as a barren, 
desolate frame of mind. This state is entirely distinct from 
that which is produced by a single sorrow, or even from 
the pain which results from a position of general unhappi- 
ness. These latter certainly take more violent hold of the 
mind and disturb its tranquillity to a greater extent, but 
they call into activity a great and opposing power: the 
contest elevates whilst it troubles the soul, and it is quickly 
and efficiently decided. On the other hand, the passive, 
desolate state of mind must find something whereby it may 
be elevated and excited to activity from without ; and this 
is the more difficult, for this very condition prevents its 
entry into the mind. But in the meantime there are two 
things which even under such circumstances always find a 
welcome reception in the soul, — i. e. the pleasure we derive 
from nature, and thought actively employed upon ideas. 
You wUl here ask me what I mean by ideas, for in your 
letter you have already said that I have left you in uncer- 
tainty upon this point. I do not refer to isolated, specific 
ideas, but to a state in which we are actively employed 
with 4eep and profound meditation itself. This meditative 
state may set out from, and attach itself to, all things; — 
but its aim, the end at which it always arrives, is ever one 
and the same, — namely, the destiny of mankind as a whole. 

LETTER L. 199 

and its solution at the moment when all earthly things fall 
away and lose their value, and only the purely spiritual 
remains — that which we can only still regard as human in 
so far as we ourselves are also destined for the highest pur- 
poses. In the private affairs of life, in such worldly events 
as pass before our eyes, and in the memories of both 
derived from bygone times, the mind willingly searches out 
the often complicated causes, examines such consequences 
as are already visible, or which are to be expected; and 
lastly, dwells upon the thought how much after all wiU be 
found to possess true value when weighed in the balance, 
and'what portion this Avill be. When, therefore, I speak of 
occupying ourselves with ideas — of being immersed in their 
contemplation — of being directed towards one point, — I 
do not mean a state in which we are employed with single 
subjects, but with meditation itself — one in which we seek 
to divest things of their appearance, — in which we are em- 
ployed in the examination of ourselves and others in bring- 
ing all our thoughts to bear upon that which alone carries 
within itself its own excellence, and which even in frail 
man cannot perish because it does not originate within him, 
and which, measured by a true standard, is alone worthy 
of a free and unconditional surrender of ourselves to it. I 
do not include learned or merely scientific inquiries amongst 
the subjects of such meditation. These may be the means 
of collecting and preparing materials for such meditation ; 
they may guide, rectify, and purify it, but its ultimate 
purpose cannot be contained in them. Truly salutary medi- 
tation requires nothing but concentration of the powers of 
the mind, and every one can attain it, since the terminal 
threads of human destiny, with which all things are con- 
nected, must be laid hold of by every man ; and the ideas 
which are thus called into activity exist in aU — in the 
learned as well as in the unlearned, differing only in de- 
grees of precision and lucidity. Profound mental powers 
are not so much required to enable us to devote ourselves 

200 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

to those meditations, as a mind strengthened and enlight- 
ened by the expulsion of vanity and of aU improper desires, 
by indifference to pleasure and external prosperity, and by 
the habit of self-command. The employment of our intel- 
lectual faculties upon our internal condition exerts a bene- 
ficial influence upon us, analogous to that which the sun 
produces in nature ; it disperses the mists of the mind, it 
enlightens and invigorates the soul, and thus elevates it to 
a state of higher tranquillity. Whenever I am put out of 
humour by any circumstance, which certainly does not hap- 
pen thrice in the year, or when I am unwell, nothing re- 
covers me with such certainty from both these conditions 
as an occupation which exercises my mind closely and in 
one direction. 

You mean, I believe, by what you call your joyless state, 
not a position in which there is no joy in life, but a state 
in which the soul has lost, to a greater or less extent, its 
capacity for it. You ask me whether I have ever experi- 
enced this condition. Throughout the whole course of my 
life it has always been unknown to me. Men who live in 
a certain easy gratification of every desire — and this has 
generally been my lot — are accustomed readily to lose their 
sense of enjoyment, and a feeling of indifference is apt to 
spring up in its place; but this has never been the case 
with me. I can much rather with truth and thankfulness 
assert, that I daily strengthen my experience that, for those 
who know how to gather it, a source of pleasure lies in 
every natural object. My sensitiveness is by no means in- 
jured by successive forms of this enjoyment; on the con- 
trary, it rather appears to me as if my mind recognised 
them more actively and with a juster appreciation. 

I hope to receive a letter from you in a day or two, and 
therefore I will not yet close mine, for I expect and trust 
that you wiU write to me confidentially and openly upon 
the subject of your deep mental despondency and upon its 
cause, which I desire to see finally removed. It has already 
continued too long. 

LETTER L. 201 

I will not act in accordance with my first intention to 
wait the arrival of your letter, I will rather dispatch this, 
for I know you to be in a state of mind in which my re- 
marks may prove beneficial ; they will certainly express the 
deep sympathy with which I remain unchangeably yours, 


202 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


I have received your letter of the 20th, dear Charlotte, 
before mine can have reached you. I write to you, how- 
ever, immediately, although I cannot say much to-day. I 
thank you with my whole heart for having informed me of 
your present condition with all the openness and sincerity 
I expected of you. Yes, dear Charlotte, I have known for 
many weeks all that has been passing in your mind ; and it 
was an erroneous judgment on my part when I conceived 
that in a soul so deep as yours such emotions would of 
themselves pass away. You have placed clearly and dis- 
tinctly before me all that has made you so despondent of 
late. You found it impossible to overcome the painful feel- 
ing arising from the thought that you could not grant me 
" the little pleasure which I requested in return" for the 
thousand joys which, as you affectionately express yourself, 
you receive. You lament at the same time, " that you 
robbed yourself of that higher culture in which you would 
have participated, had you but unconditionally surrendered 
yourself to my guidance." You allege as a melancholy 
impediment, but without wishing in the least to justify 
yourself, the painful irritability of a nervous system des- 
troyed by great and long-continued suffering ; and lastly, 
you wisely and amiably permit yourself continually to hope 
that in time you will gain more strength, as I have always 
anticipated, and that you have not given up the possibility 
of returning at a later period to my views and of consent- 
ing to my wishes, although you have not been able to pro- 
mise this. All this has given birth to that deep melancholy 
which has wholly mastered you. Dear, good Charlotte, I 
have recognised all these feelings within you for these many 


weeks past ; and I may say I have fully appreciated them ; 
they have increased my sincere and heartfelt esteem. They 
are the natural emotions of an elevated feminine mind; 
they are worthy of you, and I thank you with the greatest 
sincerity for having esteemed me worthy of so unreserved 
a disclosure of your mental condition. Do but attend to 
my request. I repeat what I have often said, that none of 
my sentiments towards you are altered, but that they are 
all directed towards you with affectionate interest, in word 
and deed such as you would desire. It would indeed be 
truly lamentable were you not once again to receive this 
assertion with a trustful heart. Your earlier, beautiful, 
cheerful contentedness must at last return. I wiU most 
willingly, as hitherto, give you my assistance ; but you must 
likewise fulfil your part, and above all you must not torment 
yourself any longer with those delusive imaginations with 
which you have filled a heart once so faithful and so pious, 
and which is accustomed to submit not only its actions but 
its thoughts to the approval of a high and invisible Judge. 
Listen to me, think over, and follow my entreaties and 
my advice ; — you will thereby give me great delight. Fare- 
well. Pardon the brevity of this letter, — but I am about 
to leave this place. Direct your next to Berlin. — Yours, 
with unchangeable affection, H. 

P.S. — You mention in your last letter an idea, which 
you say is very interesting. You call it an hypothesis 
upon which you often dweU with much pleasure. You 
know how much I occupy myself with ideas, and how yours 
interest me. I entreat you to place your thoughts dis- 
tinctly before me upon a separate sheet of paper, — and do 
this veiy soon : — it will give me the greatest pleasure, for, 
as I have often told you, I desire to know accurately all 
that arises within and excites your mind, and you esteem 
me worthy of this confidence, which I regard with the 
greatest thankfulness, and value as a high gift. 

204 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Tegel, 17th October 1825. 

I have been here since the beginning of October, and 
shortly after my arrival I received your letter of the 4th. 
I thank you, dear Chai-lotte, most particularly and most 
sincerely, for every passage which it contains. It has fully 
answered my expectations. Yes, I knew, and had perfect 
confidence that you would do me the pleasure of acceding 
to my entreaties and representations. And now I think it 
better not to dwell any longer upon this subject, but to 
pass on to other matters. One remark, however, I must 
make, — i.e. that I see with gladness and deep interest that 
you are in better health, and that you have made some 
alterations in your regimen. It also delights me much to 
know that you have at last consulted a physician. Attend 
to his advice when it is not too disagreeable to you. A 
disease of the mind, which, however, I do not ascribe to 
you, soon disappears of itself: a mind healthy and pure 
like yours will easily heal fancied evils by earnest and sus- 
tained treatment of itself; for God has given us free wUl 
for this purpose, that we may either receive or reject what- 
ever deliberate reason may think fit. 

You have certainly remarked, as well as myself, the 
beauty of the stars in the eastern heavens dui'ing the latter 
part of September and the beginning of October. Three 
planets and a star of the first magnitude were situated near 
to each other, — Mars and Jupiter in the constellation Leo, 
and Venus later, as the morning-star, near Sirius. I merely 
mention this in order that you may have an opportunity of 
retrieving your loss, should you have neglected to observe 
them. Their appearance was most beautiful between three 


and four in the morning. I and my wife have risen almost 
every morning, and have remained a long time by the "win- 
dow ; and each time it was with difficulty that we could 
turn away from the beautiful sight. From my youth I 
have taken great delight in the stars and in the contem- 
plation of the starry heavens. My wife sympathises in this 
as in almost every other of my inclinations; and dux'ing 
the whole course of my life, on clear starry nights, I have 
spent sometimes a greater, sometimes a lesser time in their 
contemplation; but seldom has the year and season been 
so favourable for this purpose as this remarkably beautiful 
and clear autumn has proved. I cannot say that, when re- 
garding the stars, it is so much the contemplation of their 
infinitude and the immensity of the space which they occupy 
that fills me with delight: such thoughts tend rather to 
confuse the intellect; and moreover, in our opinions re- 
specting their countless numbers and the vastness of space, 
there is contained much which I'ests upon views which are 
but human, and not destined to endure for ever. Still less 
do I contemplate them in reference to another life ; but the 
mere thought that they are so far removed, so far above 
all earthly things — the feeling that all earthly things vanish 
before them — that the individual man, when compared with 
these worlds scattered throughout space, sinks into insigni- 
ficance — that his destiny, his enjoyments, his privations, 
to which he attaches so mucL importance, disappear as no- 
thing before their greatness ! — and then again, the thought 
that the stars unite all men and all ages, — that they have 
witnessed all things from the very beginning, and will be- 
hold all that futurity contains ! In these reflections I lose 
myself in silent delight whenever I contemplate the stars 
of heaven. Indeed it is a truly sublime spectacle, when in 
the stillness of night, and in a perfectly cloudless sky, they 
arise and set in choral harmony. Existence in some mea- 
sure divides itself into two portions: — the one, belonging 
to the earthly, is silent in the perfect stillness of night, 

VOL. I. T 

206 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

whilst the other alone comes forth in sublimity, pomp, and 
majesty. Viewed in this light, the starry heavens truly 
exercise a moral influence over us; and who can readily 
stray into the paths of immorality if he has been accus- 
tomed to live in such thoughts and emotions, and frequently 
to dwell upon them? How are we entranced by the simple 
splendour of this wonderful drama of nature? I have often 
thought, dear Charlotte, that a slight study of astronomy 
would prove particularly pleasing to you. Should you desire 
it, I will with pleasure give you some instruction, and will 
name such books as might prove useful. 

You ask me whether I have been alone or with my 
family. We were in Burgorner this summer, with all our 
children and some relatives; so that although the house is 
tolerably extensive, there was not a single apartment to 
spare. My daughter from Silesia, however, came at a later 
period, and my youngest son left us before her arrival. I 
have not been constantly in Burgorner. Once I travelled 
to my daughter's place of residence in order to fetch her, 
and at another time I spent some days alone upon two 
estates belonging to my wife. I can with truth assert that 
I enjoy both solitude and the family circle. I would never 
wish myself removed from the latter into the former posi- 
tion ; but when I am alone, my own resources are sufficient 
to enable me to fill up my time. Yet no one can live more 
simply, or be more haj^py and cheerful in the family circle 
than I am; — all are content with me, and I am content 
with all. There is never any dissension, want of harmony, 
or trouble among us, except such as sickness may produce. 
Such a life, inasmuch as it by no means abounds in inci- 
dent, affords but little subject for remark. Thank God, we 
have continued exempt from illness; and my wife, who at 
times has much to suffer, but by great strength of mind 
and serenity of purpose permits but little of it to be seen 
outwardly — has been for some time much better, both ac- 


tually and in her appearance. My eldest daughter and her 
husband accompanied me here, but my eldest son and his 
"wife have returned to Silesia, where my second daughter 
will also shortly foUow them. These were the outward fea- 
tures of my life, and this is its present state. 

It has never been my habit to speak willingly in my 
letters upon such subjects, and this is why I had forgotten 
to tell you whether my journey had been made alone or in 
company. I attach no importance to narrations; events 
and occurrences are no further intei'esting to me than for 
the thoughts and emotions which they serve to call forth. 
In conversation, I never relate anything where I ought not, 
and I carry no information into my family concerning either 
myself or others. Although I do not blame it in others, 
yet it always appears to me to indicate a certain poverty 
of ideas, when either in writing or conversing we begin to 
narrate. I was never of opinion that it was the part of 
friendship to communicate all that might happen, whether 
of a joyous or a sorrowful nature. It may indeed be called 
friendship, and may prove so, but, thank God ! there is at 
all events a friendship of a more exalted character, which 
is based upon higher and purer principles, and which being 
occupied with something nobler, does not concern itself 
with such narrations. 


You will shortly receive, dear Charlotte, that which I 
have long promised you, — namely, a roll of engravings 
illustrative of this house, together with a ground-plan and 
description, so that by their help you may acquire a clear 
idea of my existence here, where I chiefly reside. The 
engravings belong to a general work on architecture, and 
until now I could not obtain single plates ; but I have found 
a way of procuring them ; and therefore remember, when 
you receive a roll of engravings, that it comes from me. 

I have again perused your letter. There is one passage 
upon which I often dwell : it has afforded me much plea- 


sure, and I have read it frequently. There are so naany 
beautiful, and even elevated and ennobling ideas associated 
with this delightful relationship, — this lasting friendship! 
First, I dwell upon the thought that you have dedicated to 
me those feelings even from early youth, and have tendei-ly 
preserved them in more advanced age, unconnected with 
one extraneous desire or wish. We have here, then, even 
amid earthly vicissitude, a proof of duration, of imperish- 
ability, . and we may even say of eternity, and on the other 
hand, of a firm reliance on the unchangeable, and of an 
appreciation of what alone possesses true value for man — 
in the worthy enjoyment of a higher happiness, and the 
rejection of all petty and narrow-hearted restrictions. For 
such restrictions, which we so frequently encounter, and in 
which those who cherish them find their greatest delight, 
only prove the sensual impurity of the feelings which need 
such barriers behind which to conceal themselves. True 
love, which remains faithful to its high origin, warms, like 
the sun, as far as its beams extend, and transfigures and 
illumines all things in its purifying splendour. Finally, 
such a conviction impressed upon the soul elevates it in 
faith and hope. If unwavering fidelity and love are our 
companions here in finiteness and imperfection — if here 
we already possess imperishable blessings, which shall ac- 
company us beyond this life, and which we cannot leave 
behind, how much ought we to be enlivened and delighted 
by the hope of once more recognising in the higher radi- 
ance of the eternal world, that which has already blessed us 
here, as the free gift of heaven. 

Depend, dear Charlotte, with equal firmness, upon the 
constant and uniform affection with which I am yours, 




Berlin, October 30, 1825. 

I write you only a few lines to-day, — merely that the 
engravings of Tegel may not go altogether unaccompanied. 
The purposes to which particular rooms are applied are in 
part indicated on the plan. I occupy that which is marked 
the Library, together with the cabinet next to it, looking 
towards the garden. Besides this, there are on the ground- 
floor no other rooms but those for the domestics j — the 
dining-room is on the first story, above the kitchen, as is 
seen also in the plan. We sleep on the opposite side of 
the house, in the circular projection looking towards the 
court. My wife and unmarried daughter occupy the re- 
mainder of this story, which also contains the drawing-room. 
The second story is reserved for my children ; and as there 
are more here than it will contain, we find places for them 
on the first floor also. Farewell. — Ever yours, 


210 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, Nov. 8, 1825. 

By this time you will have received the engravings, which 
I know beforehand will afford you much pleasure. They | 
are so correct, that when carefully examined, they must 
convey a very accurate idea of the house. I like the place | 
very much, although in truth I am not much there. This 
year I have passed scarcely four months within it. In win- 
ter I have many reasons for being in the city, although even 
at that season of the year a residence in the country would 
prove more pleasing both to my wife and myself. In sum- 
mer business connected Avith my other estates compels me, 
or at least affords me an opportunity of visiting this also. 
Thus, with all apparent freedom, we are yet not always 
able to do that which would be the most agreeable to us. 

I am attached to Tegel for many reasons, but principally 
on account of the statues which it contains : these are partly 
marble antiques, and partly casts from the antique. They 
stand in the different apartments, and I am continually 
surrounded by them. A taste for sculpture belongs to the 
best, purest, and noblest of our enjoyments; and we feel 
most reluctant to be separated from those forms from which, 
however often we contemplate them, we derive renewed and 
indeed heightened pleasure. However charming beauty 
and expression may be in living persons, yet, in a perfect 
statue, such as some of the antiques, both exist to an ex- 
tent so much greater, so much higher, as to admit of no 
comparison; and in order to discover this, no particular 
knowledge is required, but only a naturally correct sense 
of the beautiful, and a complete surrender of ourselves to 
this sentiment. 


The beauty which a work of art possesses is naturally 
more unconstrained than nature, — just because it is a work 
of art. All desire, every inclination of a sensual or selfish 
character, be it ever so indistinct and remote, is laid aside ; 
we desire to gaze upon it only that we may lose ourselves 
more and more in its contemplation. We lay no claim to 
it. The fine remark of Goethe in reference to the stars be- 
comes peculiarly apphcable to beauty of this kind : — " The 
stars which man covets not, he rejoices in their light." 

You will have remarked on the plan some statues ar- 
ranged in the entrance-hall, and amongst them a female 
figure without head or arms. This stands there no longer, 
but is now placed with others in my room. It has been 
in my possession for a long time, and I had it always 
beside me at Rome. It is one of the most perfect antique 
figures which have been preserved, and it would not be 
easy to find another which gives so pure an idea of strictly 
feminine beauty. 

All the statues which you find represented in the en- 
trance-hall are now standing in the rooms, with the excep- 
tion of the round vessel in the centre, which still remains 
in the same place. You will have wondered, and will not 
have guessed what this represents. It is the top of a well, 
carved in marble, with a bas-relief encircling it, represent- 
ing a bacchanalian feast. The notch is yet to be seen 
gradually worn in the marble by the cord with which the 
bucket was drawn up. How it found its way into the 
church of a monastery in Rome heaven only knows. Tra- 
dition declares it to belong to the same well in which the 
holy Pope Calixtus sufiered martyrdom, and the water was 
thought to possess cui'ative properties. Nevertheless the 
Pope was willing to sell the marble, and I became the pur- 
chaser. At first it cost some trouble to obtain leave to 
remove it from Rome, but the late Pope was very kind to 
me, and granted me permission. In the hall above my 
apartment, which contains the principal works of art, there 

212 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

are three beautiful pillars of the rarest marble, and a Me- 
dusa's head, in porphyry, which were presented to me by 
the Pope. The most elegant of our antiques is a small 
attired nymph going to fetch water. It stands in a niche 
of the saloon, near the hall of antiques. I furnish you 
with these details, dear Charlotte, because they will give 
you an idea of the interior of the house. It does not 
contain a single picture; — such as I possess are here in 

It has rejoiced me exceedingly to find once again in your 
last letter that calm, cheerful, and trusting nature which 
was always peculiarly your own. Continue in this state of 
mind and entertain despondent thoughts no longer. I well 
know that this is easier said than done, and I am of course 
well aware that your position leaves much to be desired ; 
but besides the fact that you possess, to an extent but 
seldom found, a most contented disposition, there is yet 
another feature in your position which cannot fail to afford 
you elevated emotions, and must prove a great source of 
satisfaction. I allude to the fact that you can say, that 
whatever is pleasing or tranquillizing in your position is 
the result of your own energies, and that by your own ex- 
ertions you have both created and secured for yourself the 
means of an independent existence. The internal traits of 
character which are necessary to this end, and the talent 
and activity which must be externally added to them, gua- 
rantee for themselves a reward quite distinct from their 
outward results. What vexes me always is the thought 
that your nature required a diflPerent kind of activity. We 
must certainly admit that positions in life which appear 
even the most unsuited to our nature, may develope traits 
of character which would otherwise have remained latent ; 
and after all it is upon this that everything depends. I 
particularly approve of those arrangements by which you 
have secured more tranquillity, for this you particularly re- 
quire. The want of that which is necessary to our spiritual 


nature is, particularly in your case, far more difficult to 
bear than any worldly privations. 

You wish to have my opinion of Walter Scott, and you 
ask me what works you should read. I am puzzled how 
to advise you upon this subject. I read but few German 
books, and these are mostly such scientific works as would 
be uninteresting to you; — upon this subject I am there- 
fore a particularly bad counsellor. You say that, although 
it is contrary to the prevailing fashion, you cannot acquire 
a taste for Scott's romances; that the jaU, robber, and 
tavern scenes, as well as the harrowing tendency of his 
imagination, produce and leave within you the most dis- 
agreeable impressions; and further, that you have not 
obtained a single elevating idea from the perusal of not a 
few of his volumes; and you conclude by predicting for 
them an existence not more enduring than the works of the 
La Fontaine school. Although I cannot fully acquiesce in 
these opinions, yet I will not contradict you; I understand 
that they have produced upon you the effect you describe, 
and that you will not peruse all of them. I heard some of 
his romances read aloud in the evening by my wife during 
my residence in the country, and they afforded me much 
pleasure. I recommend to you " Guy Mannering," " The 
Heart of Mid Lothian," and " Ivanhoe," before all others. 
A most beautiful vitality pervades these romances, and the 
characters are most correctly delineated and developed. 
They also contain an additional attraction, for in many of 
them historical facts are most accurately and truthfully 
narrated, and the descriptions of the manners and customs 
of different ages are most faithful and circumstantial. 

I always give the preference to historical works as most 
fitted for reading aloud ; and I often think, that if it ever 
were my lot to have very weak eyes, as frequently happens 
to those who have strained them much, or if I were to 
become quite blind, so as to be unable any longer to pursue 
my own studies, I would then have historical works alone 
read to me. 

214 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

In history some are more interested by that which refers 
to distant periods, whilst others are better pleased with that 
of more recent times. Should the latter prove the more 
pleasing to you, a number of interesting " Memoires" have 
appeared in France within the last few years. I have read 
but few of them myself, but have heard much of them ; and 
certainly such writings are very interesting. 

I look forward with much pleasure to the continuation of 
your autobiography : it gives me the most lively satisfac- 
tion to know that you intend to proceed with it. I repeat 
with the greatest sincerity my assurances of hearty and un- 
changing constancy. — Yours, H. 



Berlin, Dec. 1, 1825. 

In the interval of time during which I have not written 
to you, dear Charlotte, I have received and have perused 
both your letters and also the latter part of your narrative, 
for both which, and more especially for the last, I particu- 
larly thank you. It has given me as much pleasure as the 
former, and has renewed the gratification which I had de- 
rived from its predecessor. The period comprehended in 
the present part is the most interesting in a woman's life, 
and this makes the narrative the more pleasing, although 
it is deficient in what we are accustomed to call " events." 
The growth of a human mind, the continued and progres- 
sively increasing development of its peculiarities, its pro- 
gress through different gradations, all of which are linked 
together, and lead the one to the other: — this is itself an 
event, and, to those who know how to understand and ap- 
preciate it, a far greater and more interesting event than 
any of those changes in worldly circumstances which we 
are accustomed to call by that name, and which after all 
act only as external impulses. This internal event, for 
so we may call it, is simply and naturally represented in 
this part of your narrative, and in such a way as enables 
us at once to perceive that it has been conceived with deli- 
cacy and acuteness. We see at the same time how you 
conducted yourself amidst the circumstances by which you 
were then surrounded : we learn to know those with whom 
you were related; and we have a vivid picture of interest- 
ing social peculiarities belonging to a time long since passed 
away. If these portraits of men wholly unknown awaken 
an interest in me, there is associated with it a much more 

216 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

friendly sympathy towards you ; and therefore, as I have 
often remarked, the continuation of your autobiography 
will aiford me very great pleasure, for which I shall feel 
most truly thankful. 

The description of your former friend Henrietta L 

is excellent, and everything that bears upon her private 
relations or public life heightens the interest of this part of 
your narrative, inasmuch as you felt at that time so deep 
an interest in her, and she exerted consequently no incon- 
siderable influence upon you. It is, however, pleasing to 
remark, that this was not such an influence as your friend 
herself might by her own nature have produced, nor such 
as she actually exercised in Ufe, but was much rather the 
influence of your own feelings towards your friend reflected 
upon yourself. She but gave the occasion of their activity. 
You may indeed feel surprised that so much confidence and 
affection should have existed between two persons who dif- 
fered so much from each other. It is obvious, however, 
that it was partly the romantic interest excited by her se- 
cret passion, combined with your own efforts for her safety, 
and partly the impression made upon you by her outward 
appearance, which, however, you regarded with the eye of 
sensibility and intellect, that bound you to your friend, and 
made her presence a source to you of such high enjoyment. 
These two sources of your friendship were conceived in a 
spirit of equal purity and elevation. I agree with you in 
the opinion that the latter was true feeling, real feminine 
affection. In youth, the aspiration after this sentiment de- 
velopes itself in both sexes, — in the one as in your case, in 
the other indistinctly and obscurely. And when fortune 
does not permit the aspiration to meet the object exactly 
suited to its nature, it passes into other kindred forms of 
feeling, imparting to them much more of its own hue than 
it receives of theirs in return. In your case there was the 
fact superadded to this, that you longed to possess a friend, 
and that you regarded friendship as the greatest blessing 


in life. This sentiment had been raised to the highest pitch 

by the previous perusal of " Clarissa," whose character you 

had completely misunderstood in every other respect. You 

also carried a similar ideal in your mind, and your friend 

Henrietta was the form to which you transferred it. True 

friendship could not easily have subsisted between you. 

Friendsliip demands perfect harmony in the principal traits 

of character; and since, as it appears from your narrative, 

there was the greatest difference both in your views and 

sentiments, the attempt to form a close intimacy, or to 

maintain it, would have constantly remained a fruitless 

task ; for it is but seldom found, at least between persons 

so similar in point of age as you were, and when it does 

happen, it is necessary that the one should feel an inward 

necessity of placing himself under the guidance of the other 

as the superior being. However, love does not exactly 

receive her impressions from the object, — she rather clothes 

it herself in the splendour which befits her own nature. 

What you observed both in the countenance and character 

of your friend certainly lay within her in the first instance, 

but they were regarded by you under a form different 

from the reality, and were veiled by a charm which truly 

belonged but to your own feelings. 

The peculiarity you mention, i. e. the desire of contem- 
plating beloved persons during their sleep, contains some- 
thing remarkably interesting. But even sleep is character- 
istic. How beautiful are children in their lovely innocence ! 
how angel-like their blooming features! — and how painful 
and anxious is the sleep of the guilty ! FareweU. — With 
the most affectionate regard, yours, H. 

VOL. I. U 

218 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, Dec. 25, 1825. 

Since the departure of my letter, dear Charlotte, I have 
received two from you, — one dated the 6th, the other the 
20th of this month — for which I sincerely thank you. I am 
pleased to find that the engravings of Tegel have given you 
pleasure. This I both desired and expected — but not that 
you would have regarded it as a stately castle. The old 
house, smaller as you will have observed than the present, 
was a hunting-seat belonging to the great Elector, and 
came subsequently into our family. From its comparative 
smallness, and the fact that there is yet another village of 
Tegel which does not belong to me, it is called in this 
district the " Little Castle of Tegel ;" but the people are 
now beginning to call it " The Castle," which is not pleasing 
to me. I have an old castle in Silesia, which is more than 
twice as extensive, with towers and trenches, yet I call it 
the mansion. The house in Tegel is convenient and peculiar 
in its arrangements. For this I am indebted to the archi- 
tect, who was left at perfect liberty to exercise his own 
discretion. My greatest merit in reference to it is that I 
have not mixed up my own ideas with his. 

We are again drawing near to the termination of another j 
year. Write to me, I pray you, on the 3d of January, when 
we shall have entered upon a new year. The present has 
been to me a very cheerful and happy one, but it has flown 
away with astonishing rapidity. It appears as if I had 
not accomplished, by a great deal, what I had proposed to 
myself, and what indeed was perfectly practicable. You 
know quite well, dear good Charlotte, that at all times I 
feel the sincerest desire for your welfare, and more particu- 



larly at tlie change of the year. I wish above all things 
that your health, which is frequently so delicate, may im- 
prove, and that you may be enabled to maintain a state of 
mental composure. You may depend with the fullest con- 
fidence upon the constancy of the interest which I take in 
your welfare, and the continuance of every sentiment which 
you are so kind as to value. I will endeavour with all my 
power to prove serviceable to you, both in advice and assist- 
ance, whenever an opportunity occurs; and it would give 
me the greatest pleasure if you would manifest towards me, 
both mentally and in reference to your worldly affairs, even 
greater confidence than you now do. You would find me 
constantly the same under all circumstances. 

At the commencement of this letter I complained of the 
rapidity with which time passes; and in reference to my 
occupations the remark is quite true. Otherwise, I cannot 
say that this rapidity is either disquieting or displeasing to 
me. I do not shrink from old age ; and, owing to a singular 
mental disposition, I have always regarded death, perhaps 
from my youth, not merely as a purely human event, which 
can never grieve the man who has been accustomed to re- 
flect upon the destiny of mankind, but as a something truly 
pleasing, My account with the world has long been closed. 
I desire nothing more from life, neither have I any extensive 
plans to execute. I receive every enjoyment thankfully from 
the hand of fate; but I should consider it very foolish to 
rely upon this continuing much longer. My thoughts and 
emotions constitute the circle in which I live and through 
which I derive enjoyment; from without I require scarcely 
anything; and these thoughts and emotions are too much 
my own not to accompany me into a future state of exist- 
ence. No one can remove the veil which Providence has 
drawn, assuredly vdth great wisdom, over the future; but 
certainly the soul cannot but advance in internal freedom, 
in clear comprehension of the deepest and most exalted 
subjects, in warmth and purity of feeling; — and must con- 

220 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

sequently acquire a world of greater excellence and beauty 
to surround it. A single glance at the immeasurable dis- 
tance of the starry heavens conveys this to my mind with 
such consolatory power as he alone can conceive who has 
in part experienced it; — and thus the termination of life 
appears to me the most cheerful and the most pleasing 
period of existence, if free from sickness and pain, which 
indeed afflict even childhood and youth. 

At this season of the year I doubly fear lest in these 
short days you should exert yourself too much. Take care 
of your eyes, dear Charlotte, and do not work too late at 
night. Take particular care of yourself, and remember that 
I am disturbed by the thought, that with a capacity and a 
need to live in loftier occupations, you should exert your- 
self so much for this hfe. You do not complain; — if you 
were to do so, it would perhaps aflfect me less. I also desire 
that you may soon have more leisure to think of your nar- 
rative, which gives me so much pleasure. It appeared to 
you when you commenced this part of it, that you would 
never conclude it; but you have already completed the de- 
scription of your childhood, and if you continue your work 
with zeal, by and by you will complete it. 


You tell me that you would gladly have my views and 
opinions upon many subjects which you consider of great 
importance. I am always prepared to give these with plea- 
sure. Tell me at all times and without ceremony whatever 
presents itself to your mind. 


Think of me at the termination of the year, and rest 
assured that I think of you with the sincerest interest and 
affection. — Yours, H. 



Berlin, Feb. 14, 1826. 

I thank you most sincerely, dear Charlotte, for your 
long and circumstantial letter of the 25th and 29th of 
January. It has afforded me peculiar satisfaction ; and the 
emotions of thankfulness with which I am filled are truly 
warm and sincere. Its pages again indicate, and with equal 
warmth, not only a continuance of those affectionate senti- 
ments which I so highly prize, but they are also written 
in that tranquil and cheerful tone which I regard with so 
much pleasure. It is not merely a peculiarity in my nature, 
neither is it one common to my years, which leads me to 
value mental tranquillity above all things; for it is most 
true, that wherever it is disturbed, there the harmony of life 
no longer sounds pure and full, — by this I mean that in- 
ternal harmony which forms the necessary condition and 
indeed the true foundation of a happy existence. This is 
easily understood when the disturbance arises from sorrow, 
inquietude, or any mental cause of suffering, whatever its 
nature may be ; but I may say, that whenever this tranquil- 
lity falls into a state of vacillation through grief or other 
disturbing causes, or by the violence of an emotion, the 
spiritual state, although for a moment it may be sweet and 
pleasing, is yet less beautiful, less exalted, and less accord- 
ant with that higher vocation, by which gradually, and in 
so far as it is permitted to us here, man may cradle himself 
in the peace and unchangeableness of Heaven. All that is 
vehement and passionate in its nature partakes more of 
earth than of heaven ; yet to a certain extent I am far from 
condemning even real passion when it truly springs from 
the depths of the soul, and is directed towards a good end. 


222 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

What I assert may be but an evening view of life on the 
whole. I was never passionate, but at an early period of 
my life I held it as a maxim to conquer, by the force of 
my will, whatever evil emotions nature had implanted within 
me ; and although this has not always been effected without 
difficulty, yet I have never failed to accomplish my purpose. 
But however this may be, I regard tranquillity, and the dis- 
position which produces and proceeds from it, as far more 
salutary and always far better calculated to render us happy, 
than a more excited state, whatever its nature may be ; and 
therefore, as I take the sincerest interest in you and your 
happiness, nothing can be more pleasing to me than the 
recognition of this state in your letters. 

You have not said, dear Charlotte, whether you contem- 
plate a continuation of the narrative of your life ; but in 
the meantime I hope you do. Once for all, however, know 
how I think upon this subject. I trust that you wUl con- 
tinue it, and carry it on to its completion. I always read 
it with great interest and with most lively satisfaction, but 
I wUl not be troublesome to you, if generally, or at par- 
ticular times, you should derive no pleasure from this oc- 

I cannot say, as you assert, that I commenced this corre- 
spondence with you in order to be able to know you more 
thoroughly. I always turn with pleasure to the contempla- 
tion of the past ; and in my recollections of you and of my 
first acquaintance with you, and in our earlier correspon- 
dence, there is sufficient cause for this new relation without 
requiring any other. This, however, is certain, that during 
its continuance, both the amount of interest and the plea- 
sure arising from the renewal of our correspondence must 
be greatly confirmed and increased by the openness with 
which you have permitted me to look into your heart, and 
to read the events of your life. I am always most sincerely 
and deeply thankful for the way in which you have done 
this ; and it is certain, as must afterwards appear, that you 


will be a great gainex- thereby. This will be readily under- 
stood by you and by all who are conscious of the purity 
of their sentiments and emotions; but I may in general 
assert besides, that if we knew thoroughly the whole tissue 
of the thoughts, sensations, and inclinations of a man, many 
inequalities would be smoothed down, and we should con- 
stantly find that very much of that which, when viewed 
alone, we should condemn, or at least regard with strong 
disapprobation, would be then readily tolerated, and even 
excused by us. 

You mention in your last letter having employed the 
Cadet de Vaux's method of curej but you add that you 
have not fully carried it out. This I can beHeve ; for, as I 
have been assured and can easily imagine, it is shockingly 
offensive — so much so, that but few have employed it to 
its full extent. Of course you mean that plan of cure which 
consists in drinking water as hot as it can be taken, at very 
short intervals, and for as long a time as it can be borne, 
until the malady disappears. Tell me exactly how you have 
employed it, how much you have drank within a given time, 
and at what intervals, and how it has affected you. I am 
sorry to perceive, that although for some time your health 
was benefited by its use, nevertheless your indisposition has 
reappeared. I am convinced that this method is remark- 
ably efficacious. Here I have heard of many instances in 
which obstinate diseases have been completely cured by it ; 
yet this is not sufficient to entitle us to say that it would 
prove universally beneficial. 

You remark that the vulgar belief that misfortune may 
be provoked is not wholly without foundation. This super- 
stition is very ancient, and one which is almost universally 
disseminated ; yet I do not myself entertain it : you may 
constantly call me happy, without awakening in my mind 
any presentiment of evil. A deeper idea, however, Kes at 
the bottom of this superstition. To laud fortune, and es- 
pecially one's own fortune, is almost universally regarded 

224 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

as indicative either of an assumed exemption from the 
mutability of human affairs, or as allied to arrogance and 
opposed to modesty and proper feeling. Hence the thought 
has arisen that punishment follows this vain-gloriousness ; 
and the frequent experience of such vicissitudes has given 
an apparent sanction to the idea. This has induced in timid 
persons, and such as are fiUed with horror at the thought of 
vain-gloriousness, a feeling which leads them to conceal, or 
at least to say but little about their happiness, lest fate might 
be reminded that it was time to produce a change in their 
lot. In reference to others, there is conjoined with it the 
feeling of envy, and of pleasure in the misfortunes of others; 
and many have been led to fear that the praise bestowed 
upon their happiness was not sincere, but secretly intended 
to produce a change in their circumstances. Owing to this, 
the laudation of a man's fortune came to be considered as 
a charm, and men foolishly resorted to the opposite course 
as a means of protection. Before enlightened and religious 
thought, this faUs wholly to the ground. He who lauds 
his own fortune or that of another, from pure joy therein 
and thankfulness towards its Author, is certainly acceptable 
to God, and does not thereby regard any change in the 
light of a punishment, if it be not already intended as such 
by the inscrutable plans of Providence. It is much rather 
a truly noble feeling which leads a man to praise the hap- 
piness of others without envy, and to regard his own as an 
unmerited gift. 

I see from yours, that on this day you wiU have des- 
patched a letter for me; but as I shall not receive it in 
less than three days, I think it will prove more pleasing to 
you if I do not to keep back my own letter until its arrival. 
It win be very gratifying to me if you tell me something 
about your occupation. You know I take an interest in 
everything which concerns you, and therefore I sincerely 
and heartily desire that your description may be a detailed 


I beg of you to write to me next on the 28th of Feb- 
ruary. Now, dear Charlotte, farewell. — With feelings of 
unchangeable affection, yours, H. 

226 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, March 3, 1826. 

Dear Charlotte, your two letters of the 13th and 26th 
of the preceding month are lying before me for answer. 
You can scarcely imagine how much pleasure I have de- 
rived from the calm and trustful tone which reigns in both 
of them, and which is a true expression of your disposition 
and frame of mind. It has also very much delighted me to 
observe that your health appears to be tolerably good. It 
is a great gain that you have found the Cadet de Vaux's 
cure on a second trial not only possible but practicable. I 
know persons in whom the hot water has produced so much 
nausea as to have compelled them to relinquish its use; 
and in others it has caused such a determination of blood to 
the head as to give reason to fear an attack of apoplexy. 
But, on the other hand, I know examples here, both of men 
and women, who, like yourself, have taken it without suf- 
fering any great inconvenience, and have been perfectly 

However, I have no particular motive in questioning you 
as to the use you have made of this method of cure. I 
merely asked you to write to me upon this subject, because 
everything interests me which relates to yourself and your 
health ; and because this method has attracted my attention 
on account of the various opinions which are entertained of 
its merits, and I have met with both zealous adherents and 
violent opposers of the system. What your letter contains 
is perfectly satisfactory to me upon this subject, and I thank 
you heartily for it. In your case the simple and regjdar 
mode of life you lead certainly contributes much to an easy 
triumph over all disease, and with this you conjoin such an 


amount of perseverance as is certainly but seldom to be 
found. It is incredible how important it is that the corpo- 
real frame should be kept under the influence of constant, 
continuous, and unbroken order, and free from the impres- 
sions of vicissitude, which always more or less derange the 
corporeal functions. After all, it is continued temperance 
which sustains the body for the longest period of time, and 
which most surely preserves it free from sickness. In your 
case, dear Charlotte, there is but one thing in excess, from 
which it would give me much pleasure to know you had 
nothing to fear. It is work. I have seen with the greatest 
pleasure that you contemplate procuring additional assist- 
ance and some repose for yourself. You are quite right; 
but I have clearly perceived that even that portion of work 
which you have retained is yet too much for your individual 
strength. If, as you inform me, you are continually com- 
pelled to work until deep into the night — till one or two 
o'clock — and yet to get up at six in the morning, the ex- 
ertion is certainly too great. It is true I generally remain 
up until one in the morning, and now while I am writing 
to you it is near midnight; but then I do not rise until 
eight in the morning, and during an hour or two before 
going to rest I choose only light and unlaborious occupa- 
tions. In general I only write letters, or attend to my own 
personal affairs: purely scientific, or any other fatiguing 
occupation, I always reserve for the day, and generally for 
the morning. 

The whole of the description which you have given me 
of your interesting, and, under circumstances which made 
a choice requisite, well-chosen occupation, and the return 
which it makes, has filled me with the greatest interest. 
It is truly astonishing to remark, as you have set it down 
for my inspection upon the little leaf of paper, that from 
the year 1820 to 1825, that is, in six years, you have tripled 
your income. It reflects the greatest honour not only upon 
your activity and perseverance, but also upon your taste 

228 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

and talents. What you must now strive to effect is, that 
it may be no longer necessary for you to work with your 
own hands, but to confine yourself to arranging and over- 
looking the work of others, otherwise you run great risk of 
suffering both in health and profit. I earnestly entreat you 
to give your attentive consideration to this point. 

It is very kind and good of you to have reperused the 
series of my last year's letters; but I am sorry that you 
should have lingered over those which were displeasing to 
you. There was no advantage in this. It was entirely a 
misunderstanding, which both of us may now allow to fall 
quietly to the ground. It must prove far more important 
for you, and, with your sentiments towards me, far more 
tranquillizing to you, to know that no feeling which I ever 
entertained towards you is changed or will change, and that 
you may always rely upon my interest and affection. With- 
out intending it as a reproach, it is yet certain, and appears 
in your letters, that upon this subject you still create for 
yourself many useless cares and troubles. This vexes me, 
for it interferes with that quiet cheerfulness you might 
otherwise enjoy, although I know how to honour the feel- 
ing which leads to it. You may always rely with certainty 
upon me, and upon my sympathy and willingness to assist 
you ; for at my time of life it is impossible that passion, 
which is always uncertain, should any longer exist within 
me, and in my character there is not, neither has there ever 
been, any caprice. As I am towards you, so shall I con- 
stantly remain. I see also with emotion that even now, as 
formerly, your uneasiness sometimes arises from a fear lest 
there should be anything in your expressions displeasing to 
me. Nothing of this kind dwells within my soul, which is 
directed towards you -with feelings of the deepest sympathy. 
If you would give me a proof of your readiness to render 
me a pleasure, then let this subject rest, and never again 
mention it. You may speak to me freely upon all subjects; 
I take an interest in the smallest as well as in the greatest, 


and I will always advise you upon all things with calmness, 
judgment, and heartfelt sympathy. I will examine them 
with you, and will promote both your internal tranquillity 
and your outward prosperity as far as my power will permit. 
In our correspondence I earnestly strive to understand your 
thoughts, and to develop and declare my own, whether they 
agree or not. This is the chief privilege of a correspond- 
ence which has no reference to external events, but is con- 
fined to the communication of thoughts and opinions. But 
I am by no means so presumptuous as to suppose that I 
am always in the right ; and when I express an opinion, I 
do not demand your concurrence. I rather freely court 
the expression of opposite opinions. Now, dear Charlotte, 
regard my position in reference to you in this light, and 
seek to acquire and preserve undisturbed confidence, con- 
tentment, and cheerfulness, combined with that tranquillity 
which every period of life requires, and which, as I feel in 
my own case, is so beneficial in more advanced years. 

I must travel into Silesia for some weeks — I know not 
for how long — upon matters of business. I beg you to 
write to me again on the 26th, under the usual address — 
Ottmachau, near Neisse, in Upper Silesia, care of Mr. A. M, 

Farewell. — With the most affectionate regards, yours, 


VOL. I. 

230 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Ottmachau, April 10, 1826. 

I arrived here to-day, dear Charlotte, and found your 
kind letter, which must have been lying here a long time ; 
for though I left Berlin on the 29 th of March, I visited 
several places before I came here. The last visit I paid 
was to a relative, a play-fellow of my childhood, now a 
widow, who resides in a large castle in a mountainous dis- 
trict, with her two sons, one of whom is married. It is a 
pleasant place, attractive both from the beauties of nature 
and on account of its inmates, and I enjoyed myself there 
very much. 

The weather has been here much the same as you say it 
has been with you, raw and wet. But the last three days 
have been beautiful; to-day is almost as warm as summer. 
I was out at five o'clock, and as I came slowly from the deep 
valley where my kinswoman's castle lies, I saw the rays of 
the sun become brighter, until at length they seemed to rest 
on and to illuminate the beautiful region so vividly that the 
outlines of the most distant mountain ranges became visible, 
But this evening it is quite cloudy; at this season such 
warm weather never continues. During the whole of last 
winter I was very seldom — not more than a couple of days 
— in the country, and so it is quite new to me to be in 
deep solitude again. For I have brought none of my family 
with me, and live quite alone in the house, having but one 
servant who is lodged at a distance from me. It is like the 
quietness of the grave. This is never painful to me ; indeed 
it is rather congenial to my inclinations and feelings, and 
I sit up late that I may increase my sense of the solitude 
of the place by adding to it the sohtude of the night. 


I know young Eose well, and like him much. He is 
amiable, industrious, and endowed with considerable talents, 
and is really altogether a well informed young man : he will 
accomplish much. It would have given me great pleasure 
if he had introduced your nephew to me. I have always 
maintained the principle, that at every age and in every 
situation Ave should be accessible, and I never turn even a 
stranger away. There is in this a mutual advantage: a 
living man is always a point of interest to which others are 
related, and we can never know when or how some pleasant 
results may arise from such an acquaintance. But those 
who are employed in scientific pursuits, even if they be but 
in the commencement of their career, always excite a higher 
interest than other men, and with them we readily enter 
upon subjects which are foreign to our own mode of life 
and education. For indeed aU things that can be embraced 
by ideas are connected together, even if it be only in their 
most elevated and general points; and intercourse with 
individuals of different degrees of cultivation, always sup- 
posing it has reached a certain height, has a remarkably 
enlivening influence on the mind, and puts a stop to that 
one-sided view of things which those seldom escape who 
have not mized in life with men of all positions, and been 
rich in experience of their own. 

You are wrong, dear Charlotte, when you say that I have 
assumed towards you a tone of complaisance, always ap- 
proving of what you say. This is not the case with respect 
to my feelings; and my last letter, in which I was quite at 
issue with you, will have shown you that I do not always 
sympathize in your sentiments and agree with your notions. 
This shows you plainly that I examine all your views and 
ideas. Certainly it happens more frequently that after a 
thorough examination I do completely agree with your 
opinions; then I am glad to express this, and I allude par- 
ticularly to the agreement, because I not only think but 
feel sure that it gives you pleasure. This is the case with 

232 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

whatever has reference to the substance of your opinions, 
feelings, and wishes. The form of our intercourse at least 
is certainly free from the constraint of courtliness, from all 
premeditation ; but with us the wish clothes itself in a re- 
quest, and contradiction, when it does occur, is smoothed 
and deprived of all its harshness. All this is natural in a 
relation founded upon similarity of character. The true, 
upright, and heartfelt interest which I take in you and your 
fate, dear Charlotte, gives assurance that this sincerity will 
find faithful utterance, and avoid that tone of coldness which 
a certain courtliness is sure to induce. I heartily dislike 
this coldness wherever the relation is anything but one of 
pure and absolute indifference, and I admit it only in busi- 
ness and the intercourse of everyday life. Beyond these 
spheres, — out of which, besides, we should keep ourselves 
as much as possible, — I have no patience with this coldness, 
which is always found united with emptiness and vacuity. 
But in that sort of politeness which takes nothing from 
confidence and sincerity, I go perhaps farther than others. 
This is innate with me, and if any one sees me with my 
daughters, he would scarcely discover me to be their father, 
did I not use the term " thou" in speaking to them. I do 
not mean by this manner to be less familiar; I have no 
reason for it, but I can scarcely do otherwise. 

I will here conclude. Unfortunately I cannot give you 
any precise address for your next letter : I remain for too 
short a time to enable me to receive one here. But I must 
ask you to have the letter written, and to send it off as 
soon as you hear again from me. This may be after my 
return to Berlin, or sooner if I can calculate the time of my 
return with accuracy. 

With sentiments of the sincerest attachment, yours, 




Glogau, May 9, 1826. 

My journey, dear Charlotte, has been delayed longer 
than I expected, but I am now on my return to Berlin, and 
write to you from this place, as I arrived early and shall 
spend the night here. It is long since I received a letter 
from you. I regretted it very much, but it was impossible 
for me to fix any address by which it would have been sure 
to reach me. My place of abode was continually changing, 
and although I remained a fortnight at Ottmachau, I did 
not foresee that, my business there being unexpectedly de- 
layed day after day. Now I can ask you, dear Charlotte, 
to write to me on the 23d of this month, as the letter will 
certainly meet me at Berlin, where you can address it as 
usual. I hope that such an interruption to our correspond- 
ence will not again occur, as I am very unwilling to be 
deprived of your letters and intelligence of you. 

I feared that the cold ungenial weather might have dis- 
agreed with you. It has been here at least — in Silesia, I 
mean — very raw and unseasonable. I hear the same com- 
plaint from Berlin, but there has been a change during the 
last three or four days, and to-day there was a warm, bright 
sun, which accompanied me on my journey until evening. 
The heavens and the earth presented a striking contrast. 
The air was serene, the sky blue, with light clouds here and 
there, and the sun obscured only for a few moments. The 
earth, on the contrary, had no such pleasing aspect. I was 
obliged to cross the Oder in a ferry-boat, and my road led 
me for some hours along the bank of the stream, which I 
left here for the first time. Yesterday and the day before 
the river had risen to an unusual height, large fields were 


234 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

inundated — villages deserted — the inhabitants everywheie 
endeavouring to restrain the flood, to raise the dikes, and 
taking precautions of every kind. No serious accident was 
likely to happen, as the wide expanse of water, except the 
current of the river itself, was calm and peaceful. The 
appearance of the bushes just rising above the water was 
very singular. There has not been such a flood since the 
year 1813. The ungenial cold season has probably occa- 
sioned an accumulation of snow upon the high mountains, 
and the warmth of the few preceding days has brought on 
too sudden a thaw. So at least this inconceivably rapid 
swelling of the waters is explained here. The inundation 
will of course be mentioned in the newspapers, and you will 
read an account of it. — But whilst writing this it occurs 
to me, dear Charlotte, that it is possible you read no news- 
papers. I should think this very probable if I judged you 
by myself Since I left Berlin on the 29th of March I have 
really seen no newspapers, if I except two sheets which 
came accidentally into my hands. My life can progress in- 
wardly and outwardly, without coming into contact with 
what are called public events. If really great events hap- 
pen, and the information concerning them is certain, we 
hear it all without reading the papers ; and to gather up 
trivial facts, or to trace even important events from their 
origin, has no great interest for me, and soon exhausts my 
patience. Even in events by which whole states are af- 
fected, and which become matters of history, that which is 
really important is what has reference to the activity, the 
mind, and the feelings of individual men. Man is preemi- 
nently the centre of it all, and each man thus remains alone 
even to the end, so that that only which is in him and 
which proceeds from him can be of any importance to him. 
Man during his life on earth, sympathizing and active, is 
ever a shai-er of the emotions of others ; yet he treads alone 
the more important path that leads over the confines of the 
earthly state, and no one can accompany him there, al- 


though in every man's soul the hope exists that beyond the 
grave he will find again those who went before him, and 
will there gather around him again those whom he leaves 
behind. No man endowed with feeling can be without this 
anticipation, this firm faith, without giving up a large share 
of his happiness, and that the purest and noblest. And 
this trust is justified also by Holy Writ. Yes, it may be 
considered as an established truth, belonging to the religion 
of Christ so rich in consolation. 

But this in no way alters what I said at first. I meant 
that here upon earth everything which relates to others, 
and generally to our artificially appointed institutions, is of 
real advantage to man only so far as it enters into indivi- 
dual character. Every step in civilisation, every improve- 
ment in worldly business and arrangements, every advance- 
ment of the state and of the world itself, i-emains purely 
ideal, in so far as it is not expressed in the lives of indivi- 
dual men; and therefore in all, even the greatest pubhc 
events, I look to the individual and his power of thinking, 
feeling, and acting. The universality of the event only 
causes it to influence many at once, or by such an influence 
to originate many others, — and the greatness of the event 
only consists in its setting in motion extraordinaiy powers 
or being the product of such. Thus private and public life 
are connected. What in this is remarked of individuals, is 
also to be found in that, brought into play by other motives 
and exciting to other actions. It is only the theatre which 
is changed: the drama, the subject in which we delight, 
remains the same. When one thus contemplates public 
events, they gain, at least in my view, a higher and more 
lively interest. But newspapers cannot, properly speaking, 
furnish this, or only very seldom. 

In reference to what I said with regard to meeting again 
after death, an affecting verse occurs to me which I met 
with a few days since in walking in a village churchyard. 
A woman — a mother and grandmother — was represented 

236 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

talking with her children and grandchildren, and praying 
for them, and the prayer concluded with these words: — 
" Keep them, God ! from misfortune, and bring them 
after me in peace!" This expression has something re- 
markably simple and striking in it. I think that both 
phrases are taken from some old book of hymns, which in 
general contain more beautiful pieces than the modern col- 
lections, — and they are perhaps well known to you. 

I have a peculiar predilection for churchyards, and sel- 
dom go near one without visiting it. I like those particu- 
larly which are planted with large old trees. Fresh green 
life is so beautifully associated with the slumbering dead ! 
The most picturesque churchyards of this sort T ever saw 
are in Konigsberg in Prussia. They have Avhole rows of the 
finest and most magnificent lime-trees. I spent a part of 
the year 1809 in Konigsberg, and rarely omitted to walk in 
these churchyards on the fine summer evenings. In Rome 
there is one for foreigners who are not of the Roman 
Catholic persuasion, also very beautiful, wliich contains an 
ancient pyramid and a monument, which stood by chance 
upon the spot chosen for the cemetery. I shall not remain 
long at Berlin, but shall hasten as soon as possible to Tegel, 
partly because I like the place and am there surrounded 
by what I love, and partly because of the undisturbed quiet 
in which I can work there. When travelling and changing 
one's residence, one does very little, and the sort of activity 
in which one can engage is, for the mind, properly speaking, 
mere indolence. 

Farewell, dear Charlotte. — With sincere sympathy and 
unchangeable attachment, H. 




I am very well, but very busy, as I think I am going to 
complete undertakings which have been in progress for 
years. I have laid down a regular plan for the next year, 
and shall devote all my leisure time to this, as I have done 
for some weeks past. 

* * * # 

The weather is more beautiful than we often have it in 
this northern climate of ours : it has a cheerful eiFect alike 
upon mind and body, and we are more than usually dis- 
posed to intellectual activity. It is certainly an enviable 
advantage of the southern latitudes that a more equable 
temperature is there maintained. But in another view this 
equality of Nature is unpleasant, and is perhaps prejudicial 
in regard to mental occupations. The return of spring is 
not so eagerly and impatiently expected, as the winter is 
not so dissimilar to it as here. This naturally has its effect 
upon the soul ; and if one can suppose, as I at least do, that 
every passionate or deep emotion has its origin in the im- 
pressions of great external nature, without our being able 
to remark it in individual cases, so it may be supposed that 
earnest desire cannot, in the minds and hearts of the resi- 
dents in the south, take such deep root as with us, where 
from our childhood every year brings back to us the eager 
wish to mark the fresh green awakening of nature from the 
dull torpidity and decay of winter. But as nothing stands 
alone in the soul, this must also affect our whole tone of 
feeling, — and thence it may arise that in our poets every- 
thing is coloured in contrasts — masses of shade in opposition 
to the light, — that much is really darker and duller, but 

238 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

also deeper and more striking, and seems, upon even the 
slightest occasion, to withdraw from the light of external 
nature into the darkness and solitude of the mind within. 
The strength of the emotion and passion which there flames 
like fire, has here another species of ardour, — one con- 
suming more inwardly, and wasting away slowly. This 
emotion, this earnest desire, is increased by our always, 
in this climate which ofiers so few charms, looking towards 
the other as to a paradise which is denied to us, at least 
for a long-continued residence. This induces in all who are 
chiefly engaged in intellectual occupations another strong- 
desire, which is unknown to few; — for even one who feels 
well here, and has never seen another climate, cannot but be 
aware that there is one more beautiful and more richly en- 
dowed in every way. Yet there may be associated with this 
a feeling that he would not wish to exchange his residence, 
— he may find here an indemnification, in things which 
there he would be obliged to resign, — but there is still the 
consciousness that the less beautiful has fallen to his share ; 
and, from this consciousness, a desire, at least for the mo- 
ment, cannot be separated. This is expressed by all German 
and English poets, when the subject gives opportunity. If 
we may compare great things with small, it has a resem- 
blance to the earnest desire for an existence free from all 
physical limitations which is present in every highly-toned 
mind, — without, however, being accompanied by any wish 
to leave the present life. 

* * * * 

One-sidedness is something wholly relative, and in the 
man who should apply himself to a great multitude of ob- 
jects, it may be a ground for apprehension. But women 
have the good fortune, as it may well be called, of being 
able to remain strangers to many things : for the most part 
they have this advantage, that they can contract the circle 
of their perceptions and emotions into less compass and 
"•reater depth, and with them this one-sidedness is not so 


blameable as with men. I remember knowing formerly two 
women who, furnished with every means of leading an ac- 
tive life, out of pure inclination, and without being forced 
into it by misfortune, preserved a solitude so deep that it 
was difficult for any one to approach them; — and they 
certainly had not lost in point of interest by this, 
* * * * 

You mention with reprehension many vices in certain 
connections and consequences, and wish my opinion on the 
subject. I confess that I cannot agree with or approve of 
the opinion which dissects morality into individual virtues, 
opposite to which are placed individual vices. It appears 
to me a false and perverted view. I cannot say whether I 
should most dislike the arrogant, the avaricious, the extra- 
vagant, or the sensual man. It might be any of them 
according to circumstances, for it depends greatly on the 
way in which the particular vice is exhibited. I found 
my opinion of men upon their dispositions, as the ground- 
work of all thoughts, designs, and actions, and upon the 
general tone of mind and heart. As these are conformable 
to duty or opposed to it, noble or ignoble, my opinion is 
formed. If two or three men have in an equal degree an 
unworthy, selfish, mean tone of mind, it is indifferent to 
me what particular form of vice is the outward sign of it : 
the one or the other may be more offensive or more unbe- 
coming, but all vices are equally sinful and pitiable. It i.-^ 
the same with virtues: one may commit no immorality, 
and may practise many virtues; and another, on the con- 
trary, may err through pride or impetuosity ; and yet it is 
very possible that the latter may foster a higher and nobler 
tone of mind;— and him I should prefer. But the disposi- 
tion depends upon two points : upon the idea according to 
which a man is good, and upon the strength of will through 
which he brings that idea to bear against the licence or 
passion of his natural tendency. The most pitiable men are 
those who have no command over themselves, who cannot 

240 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

do what they would, and who, even whilst they perform 
virtuous actions, do so from low motives, such as reference 
to happiness and contentment, fear of the reproaches of 
conscience or of future punishment. These motives are very 
good and useful if men can be preserved from sin by no 
other means; but he who looks to the heart and soul can 
have no satisfaction in them. True nobleness exists onlj'- 
when the good is sought for its own sake, either as a 
recognised law of pui-e duty, or from the feeling of the 
exalted dignity and constraining beauty of virtue. These 
motives alone show the disposition to be great and noble, 
and these alone re-act upon the character. If, as is the 
case with every weU-disposed mind, religion enters the field, 
it also may act in a two-fold manner. From a low point 
of view. Religion can neither be felt nor attained in her 
true greatness. He who serves God only with reference to 
himself, in order that he may receive protection, help, and 
blessing in return, or that he may demand from Him special 
interference in every event of life, makes himself again the 
centre-point of all. But he who with reverential adoration 
and deep thankfulness has so imbibed the ideas of the 
greatness and the paternal goodness of God that he rejects 
everything that is not in accordance with the purest and 
noblest tone of mind, and with the thought that what duty 
and virtue require from him is likewise the will of the 
Highest and the demand of the invariable laws of Nature, 
— this man has indeed a truly religious and virtuous dis- 

* * * * 

I shall look with great pleasure for the continuation of 
the account of your life in a few days. Fare you well. — 
With unchangeable, sympathizing attachment, yours, 




Tegel, Sept. 10, 1826. 

I have received your letter, dearest Charlotte, with the 
new part of the narrative of your life which I have been so 
impatiently expecting, and I thank you sincerely for it. 
There are indeed but a few pages, embracing a short but 
important period, but I have read them, not only with 
great interest, but with sincere sympathy. 

You had told me before that when I became acquainted 
with you at Pyrmont you were engaged to be married, but 
that the engagement was not pubHcly declared. I was much 
surprised at this; — I had not the sHghtest idea of it when 
we met. The manner in which this connection was formed 
has certainly something very peculiar and remarkable. But 
whatever may be said and thought on such occasions, it 
certainly appears, as you very justly remark, that an eternal 
destiny governs the connection of events, so that no one 
can avoid the fate which is to prepare him for his higher 
destination, upon which it properly speaking depends. I 
am quite of your opinion that it is not to be supposed that 
Providence should vouchsafe to care for what we call happi- 
ness and misery. Depressing as this may appear at first 
sight, it is at the same time elevating to think that we are 
esteemed worthy of a higher improvement. There is an 
extraordinary chain of events in such destinies as yours 
began so early to be. Even when we are not urged on by 
others, and cannot clearly say what impulse urges us on, 
we may yet approach an object, or draw a destiny upon 
ourselves, whilst we have almost a feeling that it would 
have been better to have repelled it. It really appears that 
you have done less to involve yourself in the fate which was 


242 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

prepared for you, than that you have borne it for the love 
of your friend, and have not struggled against it. The 
case is very common in which without any inclination, or 
even in opposition to inclination, from a variety of reasons, 
such connections are entered into with feelings which in 
themselves are certainly not blameworthy, but which should 
not be the leading ones in such a step. This is hardly 
conceivable to me. According to my mode of thinking, it 
would be quite impossible to entertain an idea of such a 
connection, unless I had the assured conviction that the one 
to whom I was to be united was the only one with whom 
I could enter into such an engagement. The thought of 
marriage contracted in a very good and amiable manner 
— Avith mutual regard and friendship, but without that 
deep feeling pervading the whole being, which is generally 
called love — was always objectionable to me, and it would 
be in opposition to my whole nature to act in such a man- 
ner. It is certainly true that only in marriages entered 
into in the way I describe, do the feelings remain the same 
tiU death, with those modifications only which are necessarily 
induced by age and circumstances. At the same time it 
is as well that this view of things is not common, as then 
there would be few marriages. So many marriages also are 
prosperous which in the beginning do not promise well, 
that much cannot be said against them. In your case it 
was evidently considei'ation for your friend that guided you, 
and this was no doubt a noble feeling arising from the best 
and purest emotions of the human heart. But it frequently 
happens that the best, the noblest, and most self-sacrificing- 
feelings are those which lead to unfortunate destinies. It is 
as if, by a high and wise ordination, the external fate Avere 
intentionally brought into opposition to the inward emo- 
tions in order that the latter may attain a higher value, 
may shine in greater purity, and to him who cherishes them 
become dearer through deprivation and suffering. Hon^- 
ever beneficently Providence orders all things, yet it has 
not always or exclusively regard to the happiness of man. 


It has always higher aims, and acts in preference upon the 
inward feelings and tone of mind.* 

The history of the ghost-like warning is very wonderful, 
— it would be so to you at the moment when you first 
signified your consent to a union which involved you in 
infinite suffering. Still more wonderful too was it as an 
announcement of the death of your mother.f 

It cannot be denied that you did really hear yourself 
called. It is equally certain that no mortal man called you 
in the entirely secluded solitude in which you heard the 
warning voice. In yourself you heard the voice which ap- 
peared to you to sti'ike your external ear, and in you the 
voice resounded. There are no doubt many who would 
explain this as self-delusion — who think that a man may, in 
a natural manner, and without any contact of the earthly 
with the spiritual, but merely through an inward emotion 
which affects his mind, his imagination, his blood itself, 
believe that he perceives something external to himself 
That it may be so, and sometimes is so, I cannot deny, nor 
that with certain men in certain circumstances it has been 
otherwise. You say that you have latterly adopted the 
opinion which is laid down by Jung-StiUing in his Theory 
of the Doctrine of Spirits (I have not read the work), that 
those who have gone before us, being possessed of clearer 
powers of mental vision, encompassing us with love, and 
often wishing to protect us, seek to make themselves known 
to us for the purposes of warning; and that in order to 
effect a deeper impression upon us, they avail themselves of 
some significant and important event ; whence it arises that 
they are able to place themselves en raj^port with us, and 
this depends upon the degree in which the spiritual condi- 
tion is free from the influences of the external senses. In 

* What follows must of course be quite unintelligible without the 
connection, but the inferences are too beautiful to be omitted. 

+ She died exactly a week after, at exactly the same period of the 
day that the warning voice had been heard. 

244 w. VON Humboldt's letters, 

this free condition, into wliich no one can bring himself at 
will, you perhaps believe yourself to have been in that frame 
of mind when, setting aside all ordinary considerations, 
you wrote down the conclusions at which you had arrived. 
These remarks of yours have been deeply thought over and 
felt. Undoubtedly there is a quiet, mysterious presence 
not comprehended by earthly senses, which surrounds us 
without our being aware of it; and why should not this 
veil be raised for a moment and give a transient view of 
what in this life leaves no perceptible trace? You were 
here in a moment warned how you should write down a 
thought till now known only to yourself, — to make one 
stroke of the pen, which should involve your life in many 
unhappy embarrassments. You were warned by the voice 
which was soon to be no more, and, as you remai'k, in order 
to lead you more certainly to reflect upon it, the precise 
moment was significantly marked, for your mother died a 
week afterwards at that very moment. Manifestly it was 
not of this world. It was one of those signs which are 
sometimes, although seldom, made to us from a region 
separated from us during this life by an impassable gulf 
I thank you very much that you have not omitted mention 
of this. 

It is quite evident that you have fatigued yourself too 
much in order to complete what you have undertaken to do. 
Whilst I honour very highly your perseverance, I am very 
much concerned. I beg that you will spare yourself. I would 
willingly assist you. I should like to know that you had 
more leisure, which you have a right to on every account. 
I always feared you would not be able to undertake any 
extension of your employment, — it requires more mercantile 
talent and more youthful powers. It is certainly better to 
remain as formerly in a limited sphere of activity. 

I must ask you to write to me on the 26th. Adieu for 
to-day, dearest Charlotte. — With unchangeable sympathy 
and attachment, youi's, H. 



Tegel, October 1826. 

Your long letter of the 16th of September has been in 
my hands for several days. It has given me very great 
joy, and it has been very agreeable to me to perceive from 
it, that mine has given you the material for active thought, 
and consoling, elevating, and cheerful emotions. I myself 
live little or not at all in external objects; — except in 
scientific matters, which properly claim all my activity, I 
have seldom much to do with others on my own account. 
Thus, whatever principles, maxims, and vieAvs of life I en- 
tertain, originate in the strictest sense out of myself, and 
so I conceive that, as you say of some ideas contained in 
my last letter, much in my modes of thought must be new 
to others. There is no merit in a higher or deeper insight : 
it arises merely from the exclusiveness with which, I may 
literally say, except my scientific occupations, I live with 
myself and am occupied with myself alone. One who re- 
sided with me might perhaps find in my life a sort of con- 
tradiction to this expression. For my outward position 
obliges me to see many people, and partly, with them and 
partly at a distance, to enter into their position and re- 
quirements, and for the time to occupy myself with them, 
even if they are not near me. But I have attained a habit, 
that this scarcely or not at all disturbs or interrupts me in 
my inward life; that I can often even continue my own 
train of thought whilst I carry on a long conversation with- 
out having any appearance of absence of mind. 

You ask me, dear Charlotte, what I meant when I said 
that the voice which called you that November evening 
sounded within you, when you perceived it distinctly behind 


246 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

you. A thing of this kind cannot be properly explained, 
and I cannot certainly assume my views to be perfectly 
correct ; but I have, respecting what are called spirits and 
apparitions, a faith which, if I may so speak, combines in 
a certain measure both belief and unbelief I believe that 
men may both hear and see, and perceive in various ways 
such appearances, and that these are not merely the fancies 
of a heated imagination, deceptions, and (so to speak) waking 
dreams. I should scarcely be surprised to experience some- 
thing of the sort myself I maintain then that these ap- 
pearances are something actual, produced by a supernatural 
power, but that every one must examine closely whether in 
his own case the appearance be one really diflfering from his 
usual train of ideas, and not merely a deviation from this 
train of ideas, or a mere representation of fancy. On the 
other hand, I do not believe that such tones or forms pass 
externally before the individual who perceives them, as if a 
living man called or appeared. I am therefore somewhat 
incredulous with regard to those stories in which a noise 
is said to be heard by many. If there ai^e only two, the 
similarity of the state of mind may account for the same 
thing appearing to both, and at the same time. I consider 
such appearances as have no particulai^ly strong evidence to 
the contrary, as inward, but inward in this way — that 
they have been awakened and brought into the mind by a 
supernatural power, and therefore the man who experiences 
them, because he is conscious of some supernatural presence 
and of some influence not arising from himself, necessarily 
supposes them to be external to himself However many 
debates there may have been on these subjects, it cannot 
be denied that something really internal may be considered 
by the individual who experiences it as something external ; 
and the creation of such an appearance is just as possible 
to a higher power, if it be in fact in a certain measure 
corporeal, as if it were merely ideal. 

The thought of an evil power would be very uncongenial 


to me. I could never sympathize with the representations 
which suppose the existence of such a being, hostile to every- 
thing good, and finding pleasure only in evil. I consider 
such passages in the New Testament as merely figurative 
expressions in accordance with the notions of Judaism, and 
as referring to the evil with which man, however good he 
may be, and however conscious of innocence, has always to 
struggle within himself. Undoubtedly there are persons 
who meet with more adverse than favourable fortunes, and 
even the very happy have shorter or longer periods when 
the course of events does not favour them, and they are 
obliged to swim against the stream. But this, even where 
it is no fault of ours, nor the consequence of any ill-calcu- 
lated procedure on our part, often arises from the natural 
chain of events, where universal or inevitable necessity is 
frequently opposed to the interests of the individual. Very 
often — and this seems to me far more probable — it maybe 
the arrangement of a wise and beneficent Providence, de- 
signed to prove and correct us ; for the chastisement of a 
heavenly and superhuman wisdom does not always presup- 
pose guilt. It may be consistent with the ways and means 
of a discernment stretching far beyond all human wisdom, 
to chasten even the guiltless, in order to bring them back 
to perfect purity. Even the best, if he perform the task of 
self-examination with the requisite strictness, is not free 
from stain, and there may be amongst his unconscious emo- 
tions some that would lead him into sin if not restrained 
by wholesome chastisement. Man himself is too short- 
sighted, and his view too dim, to perceive this, but the 
Power that rules on high penetrates it, and knows how to 
turn it to the best account. All this I am accustomed to 
say to myself, often without any outward occasion, but par- 
ticularly when, as sometimes happens to me, fate works in 
opposition to my wishes, and a period of adversity or real 
unhappiness occurs. I am then more cautious than usual in 
action, and without being in the least depressed or grieved, 

248 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

I endeavour to steer through as well as I can. When I say 
without being grieved, I do not mean that the individual 
misfortunes would not vex me — that is inevitable; — but 
only that I should consider their occurrence — the tran- 
sition from happiness to its opposite — not as something 
malevolent, but as something natural, in strict accordance 
with the course of things and with human nature, and often 
productive of blessing. According to this firmly established 
faith, I cannot believe in a malevolent superhuman power, 
or even in one that tempts to evil. I confess that I could 
never hear such an opinion from others without endea- 
vouring to combat it. It is a gloomy, narrow conception, 
contradicted alike by the goodness of God, the greatness 
of Nature, and the dignity of Man. On the contrary, the 
belief in a subordinate protecting power, existing by the 
permission and subject to the guidance of the Highest, has 
in it something beautiful, peaceful, and consonant with the 
purest and most refined religious ideas. I Avould therefore 
deprive no one of this faith who by his nature was disposed 
to hold and cherish it. It is not, however, an idea which 
I myself entertain; and in any case it belongs to those 
religious conceptions which are not universally inculcated, 
but which depend upon the individual disposition and frame 
of mind. 

It will give me great pleasure when you have time and 
inclination to continue the narrative of your life. Farewell, 
and calculate with certainty upon the continuance of the 
sentiments which will always be cherished by me. Yours, 




Berlin, Nov. 8, 1826. 

You see by the date of this letter, clear Charlotte, that 
I have left the country and returned to town. I should 
have done so a week sooner, had not unusual delays oc- 
curred. I always leave the country unwillingly; — even in 
the -winter it has its charms, and I am sorry to lose the 
sight of the marble statues and casts which surround me 
at Tegel. At the same time, other domestic circumstances 
prevent my remaining the whole winter in the country. 
Upon the whole, my life here is more secluded than even 
in the country, for there I am more in the open air. We 
have our pictures too in town; — for in order not to be 
without both at the same time, we leave the pictures here 
the whole year, as the statuary is always at Tegel. 

Your kind letter has given me great pleasure, because 
it enters into the subject of my last, and because you oppose 
the reasonings contained in it. It is very natural and con- 
ceivable that our views should sometimes differ. This arises 
first from the difference of sex, and also from the manner 
of life, and our adopted habits. A man, and particularly 
one who has often been in circumstances in which he has 
been obliged to seek within himself for safety and counsel 
against danger and difficulty, must value independence more 
highly, and put greater trust in it. He must rely upon 
himself, endure more, regard with more indifference sor- 
row and misfortune (from which no man is free, and to 
which business and the responsibilities undertaken for 
others give more frequent occasion than the simpler rela- 
tions of private life), in order to be able to subdue them 
through his own strength. At the same time you must 

250 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

never imagine that this self-reliance weakens our sympathy 
in the misfortunes of others, or that it hinders us from 
seeing that every one accepts the various events of life in 
his own way and according to his own j^eculiar tempera- 
ment. But although you differ from me upon many of the 
points mentioned in my last letter, we quite agree in the 
wish to have some sign of approaching death. Hitherto I 
have always thought of death as a friendly visitant, — one 
that Avould be welcome to me at any time, because, however 
contentedly and happily I may live, this life has always 
something limited and enigmatical, and the tearing asunder 
of the earthly veil must bring to us at once more enlarged 
views and the solution of the previous mystery. For this 
reason, I could gaze for hours at the starry heavens, because 
the immensity of the distant shining worlds seems to me 
like a bond between this and a future existence. I trust 
that this cheerful expectation of death will remain with 
me; and I should consider this certain, since it is deeply 
founded in my nature (which has never clung to the ma- 
terial, but always to thoughts, ideas, and pure contempla- 
tion), were it not that man, however strong he may think 
himself, depends every moment very much upon the state 
of his bodily health, and even upon that of his imagination. 
I do not, however, assume that I am strong, but rather 
unconditionally require of myself to be so. I should then (if 
I feel as I do now) see death approach without any dread, 
and my only desire would be to maintain my consciousness, 
and thus to follow step by step, as far as possible, the tran- 
sition to another state. Hence I should not for myself 
consider a lingering death as a misfortune, although a more 
rapid one might be preferable in some respects both to the 
dying and to the survivors. For a number of years, since 
an event happened to me in Rome which struck me very 
much, I have maintained the belief, or, if this is saying too 
much, the presentiment, that I shall not die until some 
significant appearance has announced it to me. Whether 


this will be so I must wait to see ; but I, like you, should 
wish the event to be pre-signified. 

You say that for years you had foreseen that Ewald 
would die before you. Were you merely influenced by the 
state of his healthy or had you any other indication? 

I found, when I referred to them again, that I was well 
acquainted with the passages in the Bible you mention 
in your letter. They are certainly consoling, as confirm- 
ing hope, awakening trust, and encouraging confidence 
in the love which put them forth. But I think that 
this view agrees very well with that which I had expressed 
in my letter; for whether these passages refer to the present 
life or to another, they all point out a far distant future. 
But in the meantime the feeling of misfortune and sorrow 
continues, — and in this interval, irrespective of the prospect 
of a future change of fortune, the views brought forward by 
me, which you call philosophical, may have great influence. 
But it is not quite just to call these views merely and 
exclusively philosophical. It is a part of a religious frame 
of mind to view the destiny of man as a connected plan or- 
dained by the highest wisdom, into which this very wisdom 
has admitted human suffering, even when undeserved ; and, 
whether we regard this from a philosophical or a religious 
point of view, yet as this plan, viewed in either light, must 
awaken and command the deepest reverence, it is assuredly 
a consoHng and elevating thought in the midst of grief and 
misfortune, that, even with these sufferings, we form a part 
of this eternal plan. But if I were to declare my own 
inmost feeling, I must say that the passages mentioned by 
you are not those I should myself have chosen from which 
to derive consolation. They belong to the class of promises 
and hopes; — and this way of living in the future has never 
been my wish or aim. I have always endeavoured rather to 
work in the present, and thereby to obtain an inward victory- 
over misfortune ; and precisely in this respect the study of 
the Bible is an infinite and most certain source of conso- 

252 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

lation; — I know nothing that can be compared with it. 
Scriptural consolation flows with equal strength, though in 
quite different ways, from the Old and New Testaments. 
In both the guidance of God and the universal government 
of Providence is the prominent idea, and thence arises in 
minds of a religious tone the deep, inward, indestructible 
conviction, that even the arrangements through which we 
suffer are appointed for the wisest ends, and are the most 
beneficial for the whole, and consequently even for the suf- 
ferer himself. In the New Testament there is such abundant 
predominance of the spiritual and moral views — everything 
is referred so exclusively to purity of mind, that whatever 
befalls a man, externally or internally, if he but struggle 
with earnestness and energy after this, everything else is 
thrown completely into the shade. Thus misfortune and 
every sorrow loses a portion of its oppressive influence, and 
at all events aU its bitterness vanishes. The infinite benig- 
nity of the whole of the New Testament doctrine, which 
represents God throughout in his most compassionate as- 
pect, and in which tlie self-sacrificing love of Christ for the 
human race is above all conspicuous, conjoined with the 
example of Christ himself, soothes, like a healing balsam, 
every sorroAV of mind or body. In the Old Testament this 
certainly cannot be found. But even there, always more 
consoling than terrible, appear the power and wisdom of 
the Creator and Governor of all things, raising us above 
individual misfortune by the grandeur and sublimity of the 

I ask you, dear Charlotte, to write to me on the 21st, 
and I must this time request that it should not be much 
later, as I leave home early in December, and should con- 
sequently receive your letter later, as it would have to be 
forwarded to me. 

Farewell. — With sentiments Avhich I know you value, 
and which will never change, yours, H. 



Tegel, Dec. 6, 1826. 

I have received and read with great interest, dear 
Charlotte, your important letter of the 19th, finished on 
the 21st of last month, and I thank you very sincerely for it. 
You say that my last letter arrived some days later than 
it should have done according to the date. The fault must 

have been in the irregular delivery Forgive 

my being rather circumstantial here; — it is done once for 
all, and it is important to me that you should not be made 
uneasy by such a delay. 

You remark in your letter, that before the coming of 
Christ intercourse took place between the Deity and some 
privileged individuals only, but that through Christianity 
every one admitted into its bosom can maintain a closer 
relation with the Highest Existence. I think this perfectly 
true. I cannot indeed say what might be the nature of that 
intimate and personal intercourse of the Patriarchs with 
God described in the Old Testament. The narratives of 
the earlier portions of the Scriptures, whatever may have 
been their origin, possess in every respect such a venerable 
sanctity that no room is left to doubt their truth, although 
we may suspend our judgment on whatever is peculiar in 
the mode of thought and representation, or figurative in the 
expression. For in such ancient traditions, which must have 
been handed down orally for centuries before they were 
recorded, it must be very difiicult to separate the inward 
sense from the outward form in which it is clothed. But it 
is a certain, consoling, and in the highest degree salutary 
truth, that through Christianity all the blessings of religion 
have acquired a universal and benevolent influence, — that 

VOL. I. Z 

254 vv. VON iidmholdt's luttickh. 

all (luLwanl or iiiwaiil |)rivil<'^<'H liiivc ct'iiWid, iukI UiaLt^vrry 
OIK) wiLlioiil (liHl.iiK^Uoii imiy JKiliovc liiniHclf Lo nUiwd an iioar 
to (Jod an, IJiroiij'li lii;i own HLronj>'Lli and liiniiiliLy, Ins may 
bo ablo to ai)])roiM'li jiini in lijiiiil/ a,iiil in IrnlJi. In all 
things — in rdip^ion m woII an in morale it \h tlio truly 
diHtin(;Livo orOlninlianily to minovf tim partition- 
wall wliicli loiinnly divided nalioUH an if tlmy W(;ni raci-M 
of a dillorcnt HpociciH — to hw('('|) away tlio proHnnijttuoiiH 
idoa that ono nation in |iiivil<f';i:d l)y dlod nhovn otliorw, and 
to ljin<l tof^otliM' all nun liy tin; <;oniniun lie of duty and 
lovo to tlioir noi^hhoiirH, llorc! I.Ik' <|M<ntion in no lonj^^or 
of lif!;iirativf* rf!|)i'(!H(n(id,ioiiH and luiraclcn. Ilciit ni^nn tliat 
HpirittiaJ coinninnion with (tod whi<:h in tho oidy ono of 
which man n^ally ntandn in n('<'<l, and in which ho can alwaya 
pai'ticipato thronf.''h I'nilh iind li^'iit conduct. 1 <;onl'cHH that 
1 cannot <id,ir into tin- idi'a that tlntrc! in or can ho a cloHcr 
communion hctwccn (iod and hin crcatiiroH than the uni- 
Vornid one which in conrorniahic to the plain teachin^n of 
Chrintianity, into which <!very on(! may enter throii;j^h purity 
and holincHH <ii mind. It wouhl he a, da,n;^eroiiH prido to 
boliovo ourwilvOH parti(MpantH of hiicIi an OHpecial commu- 
nion,— and moroovor Ihe human raco (h)OH not roqiiiro it. 
Piety aiid j)urily of heart, and the Htrict jiorformanco of 
duty,- — or ov(!n the carnf^nt Htruf.'f/'Ie after thcHO, Hin(!o their 
porlcct nsali/ation can nctver ho attaiiKid, — tlu^Ho <;ompnHO 
ovorythin^ that in nectinnary to man, iiulividually or colloc- 
tivcly, and all that in jilcaninf,' — ho wo must concoivo of it — - 
to tlio Bu))Vomo Uoing. 

With wincoro and nnchariffoahlo Hymjxithy, yourn, 


un'TKit I. XVI. S05 

I.M'rriOK L.WI. 

liiiiini.HTAur, Jan. 'J, 1827. 

Tlio now your liiiM Im';';iiii, iiikI wiIIi my wlmln liciiir I 
wIhIi yiHi liii|)|iiii(^MH, ileal- ( /'Imrlntid, in Um foiiiMo uf i|,. 
May you |)iih,s tlinxi^li i(, cliDorriilly, wilJioiil, cart*, and aliovo 
all in uniiil(;n-ti|>l(Ml lie.illJil 1 Imiio iJial Urn riillilniciil. ol' 

UicHo wiHJu^rt is iioL iiii|tro|)ii.|)lii \'oiir (•(»mlMi(, 

ill oilioi" roHpooLrt in in /■.real, ineaHUro Hociind lu ymi |)^ 
i.litt caliu, oon^ilaiit i-Miiilnyiiiiiil, wliieli yoiir own iiiiiid njid 
(,li() fooiin^H of your htiurt Loacli ynii Imw Lo oiijuy ; niid 
vvliatovcr 1 can coiiLi'iliiito in* coiirHo of Lliu yuar, hy our 
(•orn'rt|)oiiil(Micn or oUidrwiHc, Lo your {.';n)alt)r ttlioorCiilncnH, 
1 will do vviLli Uk' itioitl, Hiii(!(^r() pNfaHiiro. My HtmLiinciil.M 
Lowai'iln ytjii art! iiiciiimldo of (iliani^o, and you niiiy wi(,li 
Hafoty calculalo upon tlicir conUiiiiiunu!. I r(!«|uoMl, yi»u Lo 
maintain yoiirH LowardH nin unalti)rc<|, iiu I hIdJI lu'vcr coaw) 
1,0 value Lh(!ni v<!ry lii^dily. Cur ac(|uaiiiLiUH;o had wo oarly 
an origin, and lian Ixfii iiiaiiiLainod and ntncwoil in mo 
Hin/',ular a niann(!r, LliaL 1 ttliall alway.i look upon it a« out: 
of ilio moHt r(3inarl(ablo and a^rooablo <!v<niLH of my lilb, 
No OIK! can allow j.^roaLcr claimi-i l-o {.\\t: pa,(l., or IioiKiur 
more lii^dily (lie memory of'il,, or more (J(!lif.di(, to rctiii'ii in 
Uiou|.';lit to till! fJiiyH ol" yoiitli, tlia,ii I ilo. 

A year appcarn no I'liiall a, portion of life! and no it in 

111 a e(!rtaiii rcHpcct, lor d;i.yM, weckw, and inontli,! vaniiili 
with HUch incrcdihlc rapidity ! lint a^^aiu, it ia hw i iiportiiiit 
a Hociion!^ — nine*!, after all, oven the longcHt livijr docM not 
unite many of tliew; ((ortionn in the coutho of lliu cxiKtencij, 
A new year really (ie^;inH with ayevy day, art well aH with 
tlio firHt of. January, hut it eaiinot he d<;iii<!d that in writinpr 

256 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

a new date there is something to induce deliberate reflection 
and consideration. It is generally my practice to examine 
myself at certain intervals of time, and to make new reso- 
lutions; and I have often found that this plan has its use, 
even if the resolutions are not always fulfilled and do not 
remain in constant force. There are also more or less aus- 
picious years ; and this is shown, as I have often remarked 
in life, frequently by certain indications, even if they appear 
for the moment insignificant or transient, in the first days 
of the new year. You will perhaps think this somewhat 
superstitious, but it is not entirely or very decidedly so. 
The misfortunes which befall men are owing to themselves 
far more frequently than is thought. There is a secret and 
unmarked influence of man upon things, which cannot be 
laid to his charge, as it does not lie within his consciousness, 
but which yet proceeds from him. If the temper of mind 
be ungenial, dark, and cheerless, it invests external objects 
with a corresponding gloom; — if one does not meet the 
events of life with cheerfulness, or at least with calmness and 
equanimity, as if pi'osperity and misfortune were almost 
matters of indiff"erence, existence not only appears by so 
much the more burdensome and oppressive, so that one feels 
it hard to bear, but we also encounter, according to my 
experience, more really adverse influences. I can well be- 
lieve that this has no influence upon great events, but in 
matters of lesser moment, which must nevertheless be sub- 
dued by us, it appears to me to be undeniable. 
* # * * 

The place from which I write to you, dearest Charlotte, 
may be known to you by name, but you are probably not 
acquainted with it. It is so situated that few travellers 
visit it without especial motives, and through the half- 
mountainous country the approach to it is rough and difii- 
cult. I am here alone, without any of my family, and pro- 
ceed again the day after to-morrow. The Princess-Dowager 
is a woman such as one seldom meets with. I have known 


her ever since my marriage, which took place at the same 
time as hers. Immediately after that event I spent some 
weeks here with my wife with whom she was very intimate, 
so that the place is very dear to me from this association. 
The Princess was then very young, and remarkably amiable 
and beautiful. When I was in Rome with my wife, she was 
also there for some months with the Prince, and we saw a 
great deal of each other. She became a widow soon after- 
wards, and during the minority of the young Prince she 
fulfilled the duties of the Regency with great wisdom, and 
always with that kindness and benevolence by which rulers, 
particularly in small territories, make themselves personally 
honoured and beloved by their subjects. Since the Prince 
assumed the government, and the education of her other 
children was completed, she has lived alone. She labours 
and studies for herself, possesses much information, espe- 
cially of that nature which cannot be acquired without a 
profound and comprehensive mind. Her letters are equally 
animated and thoughtful, and in conversation the same ta- 
lents are displayed, and in even a more lively manner, with 
the greatest simplicity and modesty. She is scarcely known 
to any except the very few whom chance has brought into 
contact with her. She is very religious, but her religion is so 
beautifully blended Avith the deepest and most liberal philoso- 
phical reflection, that it thereby becomes still more peculiar. 
She suffers very much from her eyes, which unfortunately 
prevents her reading or writing much. Another rather sin- 
gular circumstance is, that for some years she has not been 
able to drive out. She had the misfortune, by an extra- 
ordinary accident, to be overturned in front of her castle. 
No limb was broken, but the shock was so violent, and so 
serious a concussion occurred, that since that time, whenever 
she tries to mount a carriage, she becomes ill directly and 
falls into a fainting fit. She has in consequence quite given 
up using any means of conveyance, and only goes as far 
from her residence as she can wallc. Probably the nerves 


258 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

of the spine have suffered, and the concussion produced by 
the motion of a carriage throws them into a morbid state 
which affects the brain, 

Rudolstadt is one of the very beautiful districts of Ger- 
many. I have seen it at all seasons, and it is even now, in 
the middle of winter, very beautiful, although somewhat 
stern and solemn, from, the magnificent mountain ranges 
around it, covered with thick forests. The view from the 
Castle, which stands upon a remarkable high mountain, is 
exquisite. The Prince has another castle about three miles 
distant, the old mansion of the Schwarzburg family. This 
has a still more singular position in the midst of forests. 
It stands upon a moderate elevation, and has spread out 
before it a beautiful meadow full of wild deer, and a rushing 
mountain-stream, the Schwarze, and it is surrounded at a 
little distance by high mountains, clothed chiefly with fir- 
trees. I was there once, many years since, for a week in 
the summer with tlie Princess and her family, and I thought 
it remarkably beautiful. When the noble lady wishes to 
visit this Castle now, she goes on foot, and the journey 
occupies two or three days. 

I shall not receive your valued letter for some days, for 
which I am very sony, as I always like to have one from 
you beside me when I am writing. But my journey has 
been delayed contrary to my wish. I now ask you to write 
so that your letter may arrive in Berlin on the 25th, or 
only a few days later. 

Farewell, dearest Charlotte. With sincere and unchange- 
able sympathy, yours, H. 



Berlin, Jan. 28, 1827. 

I have received both your letters, dearest friend, al- 
though the first, of 20th December in last year, was very 
late, as the plan of my journey was not carried out, and I 
did not go to Hadmarsleben. It has been sent to me here. 
Now I shall remain here and at Tegel until the middle of 
summer, and our correspondence will be secure from such 

I am very glad to find that your health is at least toler- 
able, and that the changeableness of the weather and the 
frequent storms which generally injui-e susceptible consti- 
tutions, have not affected you. I certainly do not much 
like winter, and from childhood have not had any predilec- 
tion for the so-called beauty of a winter-day. The cold is 
of no consequence to me, since I always so guard myself 
against it that it can do me no harm, and I can shut myself 
up in my room from the melancholy and monotonous view of 
the snow out of doors. In the town I generally feel more 
comfortable, as I cannot see anything of the desolation of 
winter from my window. In the night only is this season 
beautiful, when man and the ordinary tumult of the crowd 
cease to disturb, and the starry heavens give a view of pure 
Nature. During the day it is only in the country that 
the view out of the window is agreeable. I early acquired 
this habit of enjoying only the night when in town. When 
quite a young man, while living in the city, I have sat for 
whole days in my room when I was not in company, but 
regularly traversed the lonely streets for several hours of 
the night. I am exceedingly glad therefore that you have 
the same predilection as myself for the starry sky. One 

260 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

who is not susceptible of this inward sentiment loses a very 
great joy, and one at the same time of the purest and most 
elevated nature. This high enjoyment is very appropriate 
to your disposition and your retired life. I have again 
dwelt with great interest upon the survey of your employ- 
ments, which you are so good as to give me at the close of 
the old year and the commencement of the new one. But 
it has given me pain to see that, with very great and ex- 
cessive effort, you have had less profit than in former years. 
Such observations grieve me exceedingly. However much 
I like industry and labour, — however highly I honour you, 
good, dearest Charlotte, for both, I would wiUingly think 
of you, in the evening of your life, after a burning noon, in 
a more quiet situation, — and therefore I cannot approve 
of your endeavouring to add to your present engagements. 
Believe me, dear Charlotte, I feel your delicacy and appre- 
ciate it fully; — but I beg of you to speak to me with 
confidence respecting your worldly position : you esteem me 
sufficiently to lay open to me that more exalted part of 
yourself, your mind and soul, — and this gives me great and 
sincere pleasure. You can in truth confide in no one who 
takes a greater interest in all your concerns. 

* # * # 

In a correspondence which is neither upon scientific sub- 
jects nor on business, we speak of ideas, sentiments, and 
feelings, and communicate openly what may be more or 
less approved by our correspondent. It is always to be 
understood that something of this is but our own opinion, 
which may be erroneous. But we cannot do otherwise than 
reason and write according to our own opinion, until it is 
corrected by a better one. 

* * # * 
Providence certainly does not favour individuals, but the 

deep wisdom of its counsels extends to the instruction and 
ennoblement of all. 

* * * * 


. . . . The permission of evil in the world, the im- 
punity of the wicked, and the sufferings of the good, are 
problems in the government of the universe which man has 
always endeavoured to solve, now in this way, now in that. 

* # # # 

It has always appeared to me the safest course to rely, 
with aU humility, on the unsearchable but sure wisdom of 
the divine counsels, and to rest satisfied with the natural 
reflection that in this life we survey so small a portion of 
human existence that we are not entitled to pass any judg- 
ment whatever on the whole. 

# # * * 

You remark very justly that a winter-day has its charms. 
The snow is certainly monotonous, but it is also pure, and 
presents an image of untouched spotlessness when it has 
newly fallen and is yet untrodden. In Switzerland that 
white covering to the high mountains, almost inacessible to 
the foot of man, is very beautiful. Your comparison of it 
to a pall has struck me : the idea was new to me. But even 
if the snow were a pall, there would be nothing unpleasant 
in the allusion. Nature lies during winter as if in the tor- 
pidity of death ; and if Nature, in her regularly appointed 
course, calls up the remembrance of death, it pi'esents itself 
to the mind and the imagination only as a necessary trans- 
formation, — an unveiling of a new, and till now unsuspected 

I must again have expressed myself not quite clearly, if 
you, dear Charlotte, believe that I in any measure combatted 
the opinion that an all-ruling Providence guides the desti- 
nies even of individual men. According to my firm con- 
viction, man may rely upon it with safety : it is contained 
in the idea of the Creator and Supporter of the world; it 
appears in many passages of both the Old and New Testa- 
ments, and it is not only a firm and well-founded, but also 
a deep and consoling truth, of which d© doubt remains; — 
and you are certainly right when you say that the happy 

262 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

require the belief that they may not be arrogant; those 
that are not happy, as a support ; and the miserable, that 
they may not sink into despondency. Even if every one 
conceives in his own way of this divine consideration and 
care, these are merely unimportant diversities of individual 
opinion. The main point still remains, that an all-wise and 
aU-good Being rules the order of things to which we belong ; 
that our slightest or most important destinies are inter- 
woven with it; 'that everything that comes to pass must 
be good and beneficial, although to us it may be grievous ; 
and that Hite satisfaction in us, and, unless where from some 
equally wise reasons an exception occurs, the blessing or 
curse which befalls us depends upon the conformity of our 
actions with the law of duty, and yet more upon the purity 
of our intentions. So far our opinions could not diifer. 
What I said merely referred to an observation in an earlier 
letter of yours, that the Deity appears to make a distinction 
between different individuals, and conducts many through a 
severer discipline. You had not even expressed this as your 
own opinion, but only as one of the attempted modes of in- 
terpretation of the phenomena you mentioned. I could never 
agree with the idea that the Deity cared more for some than 
for others. God may, and this lies in the nature of the thing, 
testify His approbation more towards those who, in conse- 
quence of their allegiance to Him, exhibit more love, sin- 
cerity, and purity of heart; but a partial distribution of his 
guiding, watchful, rewarding and chastening care, cannot be 
reconciled either with the idea of His omnipotence or with 
that of His justice. In the Old Testament, the expressions 
relating to the elect of God may seem to have this sense 
perhaps, but these passages are partly connected with the 
Jewish notion of the chosen people of God ; and this idea 
of election does not certainly require that exclusive sense, 
but only means that the elect Avere those who, by their 
purity of heart and piety, were most worthy of the love of 
God, and had obtained His approbation. In the New Tes- 


tament there are no passages from -whicli partiality in the 
care of God and in the ruling dispensation of his Providence 
coidd be inferred. If in any passage this view appears to 
be held, it may be easily explained otherwise. But the 
consoling thought remains for ever, that God sends us even 
adverse and distressing fortune only through love, and in 
order to purify our hearts. So, dear Charlotte, I understand 
the point which has been under discussion in two of our 
letters, and I should think that this would fully harmonize 
with your views and convictions. 

264 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Tegel, March 18, 1827. 

You already know my liking for an occasional visit to 
the country, so you will not wonder that I now write to 
you from Tegel. I am here for a couple of days only, and 
have not, properly speaking, left the town. Although the 
weather is inclement, it does not prevent my walking out 
every day, — that is to say, as long as I am here. 

The lake which is on my estate is now again quite free 
from ice. This deliverance of the water from the fetters 
which in winter rob it of its beautiful motion, and make it 
like the firm land, is a spectacle in which I always rejoice 
very much. We sympathize with the restoration of free 
motion, and dislike the harsh inflexibility which, as far as 
its influence will extend, imposes its own peculiar nature on 
the most beautiful portion of the delicate gliding element. It 
is generally said that water divides countries and regions ; — 
but it rather unites them ; it presents a surface much more 
easily traversed than the solid land ; and it is a beautiful 
thought, that however far one shore may be from another, 
the wave which now ripples over my foot will in a short 
time be on the opposite strand. 

I read with pleasure in your letter that you are busy 
arranging a plan for a little journey to Offenbach, and 
I beg you not to give up your intention. I believe that 
you, dear Charlotte, occasionally require some recreation, 
or at least that it would have a very favourable effect upon 
you. I feel glad that you are not in any way dissatisfied 
with your situation, or wearied with your occupation. Yet 
if you were, it would be no more than human. When the 
same operation has been carried on for a long time, though 

LETTER LXVlir. 265 

without aversion or even with pleasure, the very uniformity 
produces a kind of weariness, and new objects enjoyed for 
a short time give the thoughts and feeUngs a new impulse, 
which generally re-acts upon the body. I think your choice 
of Offenbach a very suitable one, as you have there a dearly 
valued and intimate friend ; it is also a pleasant place, in 
a very pretty situation, and not far from you. I have 
often been there: for the first time in the year 1788, the 
same year in which I saw you at Pyrmont. I visited there 
the well-known authoress Madame de Laroche, whom I saw 
there again many years later, when returning from Paris 
with my wife and family. She was a clever woman, and 
very lively even in advanced age, and had something re- 
markably amiable and agreeable when she was seen in the 
midst of her children and grandchildren. A son, a little 
older than I am, lives in Berlin on terms of intimacy with 
me; he is happily married, and is in every respect an 
excellent man. I sincerely hope you may prosecute your 

VOL. I. A a 

266 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, April 10, 1827. 

I have duly received your letter, dear Charlotte, which, 
according to my wish, you sent off on the 3d, and heartily 
thank you for it. The cheerful contented tone which reigns 
in it from the first to the last line has caused me quite a 
peculiar joy. Since I take, as you know, so lively an in- 
terest in you and your welfare, it is natural that whatever 
enables me to discover your frame of mind should be to me 
most important. Though at present, through your talents, 
industry, and exertion, your situation is such that you need 
not fear any imusual disturbances, still there may remain 
much to wish for ; and even in the most monotonous position 
things may happen, which, without illness or misfortune, 
may affect the spirits and induce sadness. But indeed the 
melancholy mood befalls most frequently the noblest na- 
tures, and there can be no objection whatever should one 
wish its departure, even for the sake of the happiness of 
those whom it attacks. It appears to me, however, that 
you have been for a long time much more equable in your 
spirits than at the beginning of our epistolaiy intercourse. 
It is very good and kind of you to ascribe it to the influence 
which you so readily concede to me. The merit is on your 
side ; your soul is as clear and receptive as your disposition, 
and hence you are always open to every conviction and every 
truth. I like cheerfulness above all things; — not exactly 
the loud sort of it which vents itself in joyous merriment, 
but the calm cheerfulness which dlfl'uses itself gently and 
completely over the inner soul. I like it both in others and 
in myself, especially on account of the greater clearness which 
the thoughts always take when we are cheerful, and which 


to me is the chief and indispensable condition of a satisfying 
existence in life, both for one's self and in intercourse with 
others. Melancholy also sometimes brings clearness along 
with it, and often a greater clearness than cheerfulness. 
One sees and feels things in their nakedness when the soul 
is so deeply moved within itself that the A'-eil which usually 
conceals them is torn away. But it is, as T might call it, a 
painful clearness which must be dearly bought; and it 
shows objects only at times and transiently, as one also sees 
for an instant into the depths of heaven when lightning 
rends the clouds. The light clearness of peaceful cheerful- 
ness is immeasurably different. This shows things partly 
as if they passed without concerning us, and partly as if 
one possessed strength enough to keep himself from being 
too much affected by them. In both ways the greater num- 
ber of events go by as in a play; and it is certainly the 
most dignified attitude of man to regard them without 
dwelling long beside them or becoming deeply absorbed in 
them: — being always mindful that there is another wholly 
different and more worthy spiritual province, in which 
man may feel himself really at home. If one looks in this 
way upon whatever is foreign to him, and regards more 
seriously only those things to which friendship and good- 
will lend a reality which can in no sense be dealt with as 
the mere scenery of a drama — which no longer simply claim 
the fancy and the thought, but seize upon the heart with 
warm and living vitality, then perhaps he deals with life in 
the way the most proper of all. With a view to the pre- 
servation and permanence of your cheerfulness I am very 
glad, dearest Charlotte, that you occupy yourself with the 
plan of your little journey. This occupation will be it- 
self a reward, even in the event of something coming in 
the way to prevent the execution of the project. I cannot 
imagine such a result, however, as the affair is so very 

What you mention in your last letter about Offenbach 

268 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

has given me much pleasure. I did not know that the 
Isenburger palace was the former residence of Madame de 
Laroche. It is quite natural in you to take a lively interest 
in everything connected with your existence and lodgement 
in the house, to busy yourself with all the details, since the 
writings of Laroche, as you say, not only imparted to you 
in your youth great pleasure, but considerably influenced 
your mental culture. With persons of fine disposition in 
such a case a grateful attachment is preserved. By the 
way, the garden of which you speak is the only thing which 
I distinctly remember. It was there that I saw Madame de 
Laroche for the last time, as I was returning from Paris 
in the year 1801 with my wife and family. There was an 
arbour in the garden, in which we sat. You remind me of 
what Goethe in his biography, " Truth and Poetry," says of 
the family Laroche, with whom he passed some days on 
his return from Wetzler on his way to Frankfort, and was 
received in a friendly manner. You are, it seems, not quite J 
satisfied with Goethe and the way in which he represents 
the worthy lady and the other members of the family. 

Farewell for to-day, and write me on the 24th. With 
the heartiest and ever unalterable sympathy, yours, 




Berlin, May 2, 1827. 

A thousand thanks^ dear Charlotte, for your much 
wished-for letter of the 24th. I always like very much, 
when I write a letter, to have one before me to answer. If 
our correspondence seldom contains anything to which a re- 
ply is indispensable, a correspondence is, in the very nature 
of it, still an answer, and one writes less Avillingly when the 
thread is for a moment broken and must be tied anew. 
Owing to your kind attention, thjs never happens to me; 
on the contrary, our letters regularly alternate. I am con- 
vinced that if many men knew that we write to each other 
so punctually without having topics of science or business, 
yet commimicating to each other matters of fact, they would 
not at all comprehend what one could possibly say when one 
has apparently nothing to say. Very few have a concep- 
tion of, and a capacity for, the communication of thoughts, 
ideas, and sentiments, even when they may by no means be 
deficient in sense, spirit, and susceptibility for all feelings 
of which man is usually susceptible. What belongs yet 
more to the pleasure of such communications is the inchna- 
tion we have to contemplate our own thoughts and feelings 
reproduced in another. In such intercourse as exists be- 
tween us two, there is not even the wish to transplant 
something from the one into the other, to confirm, fortify, 
or destroy opinions ; at least, for my part, I am conscious 
of no such tendency or endeavour. But what I feel dis- 
tinctly is a great desire, arising from a love to fixed 
opinions, to compare what I think and feel as to subjects 
of inward consciousness, with the experiences of others and 
with their manner of presenting them. That which one con- 

Aa 2 

270 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

fronts with the idea and thought of others presents itself 
to one, in some sense, with more certainty ; and were there 
no other reason for reciprocal communication among man- 
kind, this would certainly be a sufficient one. In this matter, 
too, writing has in some respects an advantage over spoken 
language. It unites the advantages of the latter with 
those of solitary reflection, which are also unmistakeable. 
In aU that relates to the communication of thoughts and 
experiences, one needs not to have another face to face as 
in a personal interview; and solitude infallibly aids the 
collection and the holding fast of one's own thoughts — 
nay, is necessary to the peaceable completion of the thread 
of one's thoughts, before another steps in between them. 

I was much delighted to see that you were glad to receive 
my letter during the holidays. It was my intention that 
you should do so, for I know that you aUow yourself at 
those seasons that leisure, peace, and recreation, which you, 
good Charlotte, so often long for, and yet so seldom enjoy. 
I know also, that to you the feast of Pentecost is especially 
dear in its spiritual significance, and now see with pleasure 
that the season has passed with you in great cheerfulness, 
and that my letter and your answer have added to your 
contented, cheerful state of mind. I confess that your 
simple contentedness is to me always delightful, — often 
touching. It flows out of your inner being, from which the 
external life takes its shape. I entirely share your opinion 
that the appointment of fixed days of rest, even when they 
are not at all considered as religious festivals, is an idea 
most pleasant and truly enlivening to every one who che- 
rishes a benevolent disposition towards all classes of society. 
There is nothing so selfish and heartless as the displeasure, 
or at least the kind of contemptuous aversion, Avith which dis- 
tinction and wealth sometimes regard Sundays and holidays. 
Even the choice of the seventh day is certainly the wisest 
which could have been made. However it may seem to lie, 
and in one respect really may lie, within the power of the 


will to shorten or lengthen the usual period of labour, still 
I am satisfied that the six days are the really true, fit, and 
adequate measure of time for work, whether as respects the 
physical strength of man or his perseverance in a uniform 
occupation. There is also something humane in the ar- 
rangement by which those animals which assist man in his 
work enjoy rest along with him. To lengthen beyond the 
proper measure the periods of returning repose, would 
be as inhuman as it would be foolish. An example of 
this occurred within my own experience. When I was in 
Paris during the time of the Revolution, it happened that, 
without regard to the divine institution, this appointment 
was made to give way to the dry, wretched decimal system. 
Every tenth day was directed to be observed as the Sunday, 
and aU ordinary business went on for nine days in succes- 
sion. When it became distinctly evident that this was far 
too much, many kept holiday on the Sunday also, as far as 
the police-laws allowed, and so arose on the other hand too 
much leisure. In this way one always oscillates between 
two extremes, so soon as one leaves the regular and ordained 
middle path. 

If this is the case, even according to prudential and 
worldly considerations, how much more forcibly does the 
matter appear in its religious aspects ! Through these, the 
idea as well as the enjoyment of the holidays is turned into a 
source of spiritual cheerfulness and true comfort. The great 
days of festival are besides associated with such remarkable 
historical events, that they derive therefrom an especial 
sanctity. It is certainly the most suitable celebration of 
these days to read in the Bible itself, in all the four Evan- 
gelists, the narrative of those events to which the festivals 
relate, in the way, as you ^vrite me, you have been accus- 
tomed to do for many years. In the Evangelists the har- 
mony of the narrative is quite as remarkable as the manner 
in which the different accounts vary from one another. The 
harmony attests their tnith and authenticity, and in it lies 

272 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

also the stamp of the spirit in which all these direct wit- 
nesses write, who saw and who accompanied Christ himself. 
But this spirit which animated them all, although it was a 
spirit of unity, did not prevent the peculiar features and 
beauties of each individual narrator from appropriately re- 
vealing and unfolding themselves. If one is accustomed to 
read the four Evangelists often, it will certainly be difficult 
for him to mistake from Avhich of them a passage is taken, 
if only it be one which contains something characteristic of 
the writer. It appears to me also, from your last letter, 
as I had before imagined from some previous ones, that you 
give the preference to the Gospel of John. This way of 
speaking, however, is not quite proper, as in these writings 
everything must be equally respected. But still it is natural 
that one narrator should address the heart and experience 
in a dijfferent way from another, and thus a diffei'cnce of 
impression may arise, according to individual character. I 
entirely share your opinion on this point. There is certainly 
in John, if one may be allowed to say so, more spirituality 
than in the others. 

You remind me, dearest Charlotte, that I still owe you 
an answer to a part of your last letter but one, or an 
earlier one, and you very kindly call it a correction of 
your opinions on important truths. Let me more justly 
state the matter to be the wish that we should be of the 
same opinion in this also, as we certainly are for the most 
part in other weighty matters. I perceive, and always with 
great joy, that your views are the result of a pure, deep 
reflection, which illumines with the light of a clear un- 
derstanding the subjects on which it chooses to dwell. 
Under the peace, of which I spoke and to which you re- 
vert, I certainly understand that which is pointed out in 
both of the very Avell .selected passages quoted by you, to 
be included, but only in the way in which I take these 
passages. I must connect them both together, since one 
alone docs not, at least directly, express the idea which I 


associated with it. First, peace, as it is said in Isaiah, is 
the work of righteousness : it is impossible without the strict 
fulfilment of duty; impossible to every one, since strictness 
in the discharge of our duties is of the greatest importance. 
This, however, I should call only an earthly, human peace. 
It must be the foundation, but it is not aU. It is preached 
in the Prophets and in the earlier parts of the Old Testa- 
ment; but the New Testament gives, for the first time, the 
completion. That alone is the peace which the world can- 
not give, — an expression not to be surpassed. This peace 
is quite distinct from the world, from outward happiness 
and from outward enjoyment; it springs from an unseen 
power: there must be a present conviction in the mind, 
that one must separate his whole inward being from the 
world, not aim at outward happiness, but seek only the 
high rest of the soul which finds its security in a life of 
meekness and inward obedience, as in a quiet unrufiled 
haven. The mere discharge of duty is not enough; the 
subordination of the personal existence to the law, and stiU 
more to the scrutiny, of the Highest, All-ruling and All- 
seeing Love, must be so absolute, that the whole being 
may be merged in it. Only in this belief and disposition 
can one appropriate to himself the peace offered by Jesus. 
For it would be a completely mistaken construction of the 
beautiful scripture passage, were one able to believe that 
the heavenly peace descended to man of itself, and without 
any exertion on his part. True, it descends in this sense 
that it cannot be merited by works — it cannot be won by 
one's own activity, as the goods of this world. It is a free, 
heavenly gift, always flowing from grace. StiU man cannot 
embrace it without that disposition ; he cannot participate 
in heavenly so long as he seeks earthly happiness. If he 
possess, however, this disposition, then is he sure of that 
peace; for it is indeed a true word respecting the heavenly 
gift, that to those who have shall be given. The earthly 
must have drawn to itself the heavenly as much as its weak 



strength may, if it is to become participant of it. In tliis 
way inward peace depends always on man himself: in order 
to his happiness rightly understood, man needs nothing but 
this peace, and in order to possess it, he needs nothing but 

* * * * 

In what you say about happiness, you have, however, for 
once misunderstood me, — a thing that must sometimes 
occur, notwithstanding the frequent and strict harmony 
between us. What I think on the subject, nevertheless, is 
only applicable to myself I find it for me comforting and 
sufficient. I like to depend on myself, and I rather want, 
than rest on hopes which may be disappointed. — With in- 
most sympathy, yours, H. 



Tegkl, May 23, 1827. 

You have given me, dear Charlotte, great pleasure by 
your letter of the 12th, 13th, and 14th, for which I heartily 
thank you. I am delighted to learn that you are well and 
cheerful, and enjoy the beautiful, truly unusually beautiful 
spring. It is not without reason you wonder that I came 
hither later this year than the season seemed to allow. 
However, I usually leave the town in June. It is at present 
very beautiful here, and eight days ago it was yet more 
lovely. The lilac, which gives a great charm to the garden 
both for the sight and smell, and which is here in great 
quantity and beauty, was in bloom. I can do without it, 
however, as I cannot say that I attach much importance to 
individual flowers. The art of gardening has little or no 
interest for me. I seek the great trees, and prefer those 
of the free woods to cultivated plantations. In the coun- 
try I find more pleasure in wandering about freely and at 
large amid agreeable scenes, than in busying myself with 
the qualities of plants and flowers. Here I can enjoy to the 
utmost this free rambling, and my pleasant acquaintance- 
ship with trees. My house is embowered among beautiful 
trees, old, yet still in full vigour and considerable quantity, 
while, if I wish to go farther, there is close behind my park 
a wood belonging to the king. Trees have about them 
something very fair and attractive even in this, — that to 
the fancy, since they cannot change their places, they are 
witnesses of every change that occurs on the spot ; and as 
some reach an exceedingly great age, they resemble his- 
torical monuments, and, like ourselves, they have a life, 
growing and passing away, — not being inanimate and un- 

276 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

varying like the fields and streams. One sees tliem pass 
through different stages, and at last step by step approach- 
ing death, which suggests still more the resemblance be- 
tween them and us. In order, however, to preserve this 
impression open and fresh, it is necessary that one be, from 
childhood upwards, often and for some time in the country. 
Only in this way do thoughts and feelings become asso- 
ciated with the objects which surround us in nature. It is 
strange, however, that I have a love for those trees only 
which, as they have no edible fruit, may in some sense be 
called wild. The most I can say for fruit-trees is, that they 
have a charm for me when in bloom. There are some very 
large ones, it is true, whose growth is indeed picturesque. 
But they say nothing to me, although I cannot assign any 
farther reason for it. It may possibly consist in this, how- 
ever, that one commonly finds fruit-trees near buildings, or 
that they always betray the art and culture of man, while 
the soul and the imagination call for free nature which man 
has in no respect moulded or altered. It is bad enough 
that trees which lay claim to great beauty are so often 
robbed of their free and stately growth by the hands and 
eternal lopping of man. It so happens, for example, to 
willows. They become, when allowed to grow free and 
unhindered, strong, high, and picturesquely beautiful trees. 
In my childhood there stood three such truly wonderful 
trees in Berlin, but they exist no longer. I see, however, 
that I have filled two entire pages with my opinions on 
trees. Did I not know how good you are, dear Charlotte, 
I should have been afraid of wearying you. But I believe 
that you willingly read what I write, and gladly follow my 
ideas, and trace them out in detail. It is very pleasant for 
me to feel myself so unconstrained with you, and to talk to 
you as I should to myself. But I have still something to 
say to-day, — and so you must this time accept a yet longer 
letter than usual. 

Your last letter gave me particular joy, inasmuch as you 


share my views about the value of written communication, 
such as we have in our correspondence. In this, too, you 
are right, that such an uninterrupted epistolary intercourse 
leads to a deep knowledge of character on both sides. If 
there are but few to whom such a correspondence would give 
pleasure, there are perhaps few women who could conduct 
it at all. There are qualities necessary for it which do not 
belong to every one, — above all, a certain capacity of purely 
inward life. I know women to whom no one can or will 
deny the possession of mind; they have much, and even 
erudite learning; in the province of the sciences there are 
but few things of which they have not some knowledge; 
they have read all that has been written in recent times, 
and are even acquainted with the Avritings and the authors 
of antiquity; — yet their conversation is fatiguing, and it 
is scarcely possible to read their letters. One naturally asks 
why, — and the answer is not easy. It is certain, however, 
that language is the chief obstacle ; it is not given to aU ; 
in fact it is rather a natural gift than an acquired talent. 
You have well termed language the garb of the soul. This 
is a very happy designation, and has greatly pleased me. 
In povv^er of language, dear Charlotte, you are superior 
to many; and if, as you tell me, you are not acquainted 
with the more recent literature, from want of time as 
well as of inclination, you are none the worse of it; — per- 
haps you have thus so much the better preserved your 
originality. I also am entirely ignorant of these books. It 
is, however, clear to me, that when you had more leisure 
you read only our best authors, — nay, have lived with 
them; and hence your character and modes of thought 
have been educated at the same time with your language 
and style. There is life, warmth, and fire in your language, 
which is thereby always simple and natural, and never 
turgid or far-fetched. I have often said something Uke 
this to you without being guilty of flattery. The fact is 
evident in each of your letters and in every part of your 

VOL. L B b 

278 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

biography. It did not at all surprise me that you so very 
early felt the desire, as you say, of beginning an " earnest " 
correspondence, which should not contain allusions to or- 
dinary events, but thoughts, meditations, and the like. You 
have, as a child, embraced every such opportunity with a 
sort of passion, and have preserved, as things of import- 
ance, the little letters you received. Even at so early an 
age as twelve you were entrusted to write many letters 
about family matters, — for example, the reports to your 
kinsman, the domestic physician, regarding the health of 
the household. You remark generally, that of all occupa- 
tions those prosecuted with the pen or the pencil were 
most agreeable to you, although you also possessed a rare 
natural skill in household matters; — natural assuredly, for 
you have never received or needed any instruction in these 
things, the sharp, discriminating glance of your eye having 
always been sufficient for your guidance. (This capacity, it 
is worthy of remark, has become of the greatest importance 
to you in the latter part of your life.) Whether such a 
talent has contributed to your happiness, or won you much 
applause, is another affair ; but you have at least felt more 
pleasure in turning to your little writing-desk, and making 
extracts from the books with which you got acquainted by 

It is not without purpose that I recall to you, dear 
Charlotte, these pictures of yourself, from a part of your 
biography. The early practice of composition may have 
contributed to give you an unusual lightness, readiness, 
skill, propriety, and happiness of expression : but not less 
needful are the intellectual powers which, as a basis, com- 
municate to these other qualities their real worth. 

Through all these ever-recurring remarks, a thought has 
more than once occurred to me, which I will now express. 
You will laugh, but I am in earnest about it. Listen then 
to me attentively, dear Charlotte. I know how, in that now 
long by-gone time, you were bowed down with the weight 


of the unhappily irreparable loss of property which you then 
suffered, I do not forget how you then struggled with 
your hard fate, and when at length you were forced to take 
up some occupation, you chose that employment with which 
you thought you could best bring your inclinations into har- 
mony. I do not forget how unweariedly you applied your- 
self with all diligence and thoughtfulness, and acquired 
such a rare skill that the products of your industry were 
thought to equal those of foreigners, and came to be much 
in demand. By your energy and perseverance you acquired 
an independent livelihood, which gave you liberty to follow 
a half-country life agreeably to your taste. It does you 
great honour, and awakens my full and true esteem. It 
is not alone the talent you displayed that I know how to 
respect, but still more those traits of character which were 
necessary to its successful employment. 

Gladly would I see you, however, in a position of greater 
freedom, and in occupations which would permit you to live 
more like yourself, and with less exertion, as your years 
increase. Yes, dear Charlotte, I should very much wish 
to see you relieved from so laborious an occupation; and I 
know, at the same time, that what may do well enough for 
many other people, is not suitable for you. 

You have very often alluded in your letters to the 
interesting relation in which, through every vicissitude of 
your life, from your childhood till his death, you stood to 
Ewald. You think with touching grtititude of the in- 
fluence which he had over you, and of the constant sympathy 
which, by word and deed through a long life, he trustfully 
showed you. Did he never awaken in you the idea to avail 
yourself of your pen ? How many women have done and 
do this, who are less qualified perhaps than you for it! 
Think only of Theresa Huber, whom you have more than 
once mentioned with love, who was known to you more 
closely through common friends. It was indeed necessity 
which drove her to writing, but at first she was certainly 

280 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

less qualified for it than you. You may object here, perhaps, 
that Theresa Huber wrought by the side of her husband, 
and under his protection, assistance, and correction. If you 
embrace such a resokition on my advice, it is only reason- 
able that I should be helpful to you. Write your views, 
thoughts, and observations, on subjects which you choose 
yourself Your own fortunes, and much which stands nearly 
related to you, would certainly afford you matter enough ; 
still more, your rich, internal life, which even in the very 
simple and laborious mode of existence which you practise, 
would never be exhausted. You succeed most admirably 
in the description of the inward states of the soul. 

Reflect on my proposal; try your intellectual strength; 
be not too modest, and tell me your mind with the confi- 
dence Avhich you always so kindly show me, and to which 
my sympathy in all that concerns you gives me so just a 

And now farewell, dear Charlotte. I am myself alarmed 
at the length of my letter, but you find in this a proof of 
the sincere sympathy with which I listen, and always wiU 
listen to you. Yours, H. 



Tegel, June 12, 1827. 

Your dear letter, posted on the 5th, has, like all your 
letters, given me, dear Charlotte, much joy, and I thank 
you heartily for it. 

* * * * 

I do not know whether you have so many storms in 
your neighbourhood as we have here. There was one here 
lately which lasted throughout the whole night, and I do 
not remember ever to have heard thunder so grand and 
varied in character. Peals of all kinds — some distant and 
prolonged, and then increasing in loudness and rapidity, 
followed each other, bursting the heavens with their tumult. 
I sat, as I usually do, till one o'clock, busy at my writing- 
desk, but went to bed during the storm, and fell asleep 
while it was yet raging. Of all the appearances of nature 
I like storms the most. Although they certainly often cause 
great damage and painful loss, yet, through the coolness 
and rains which they bring, they are in the highest degree 
beneficial. Here in Tegel they rarely occur with great 
force, because the extensive lake, as people say, breaks up 
the thunder-clouds. If, however, they pass across the lake, 
then is it a sign that they are large enough to support the 
withdrawal of electricity which the mass of water effects, 
and in this case the storms usually last for some considerable 

You say in your letter that you lost in the last severe 
winter some acacias which you had got planted as a shade 
to your garden-chamber from the sun, and regret the loss 
of such fine full-grown trees. I believe it, and understand 
it thoroughly. It is not merely annoying to lose trees, but 

fib 2 

282 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

it may even be painful if it be a favourite tree which one 
has become accustomed to. I have not lost any trees by 
frost, but the storm has up-rooted one of my acacias, and 
split a maple. Nowhere have I seen a larger acacia. It 
had a very thick trunk and wide-spread branches. The 
acacia, however, seldom remains sound below the eartli after 
it reaches, as this one had certainly done, the age of forty- 
five or fifty years. This tree also had been once struck, 
but I had again given it firmness by a strong stay which I 
applied to it ; but the storm bent it slowly, and at the same 
time tore its roots out of the ground. The maple was still 
larger and finer, but, alas ! it was so much shattered, that 
I have been obliged to have the whole tree dug up. There 
is now a gap which one, not knowing the reason, might con- 
sider intentional, as it allows from the house a pretty peep of 
the lake, — which, however, pains me as often as I glance at 
it. Trees are certainly unfortunate in this respect, that they 
must stand still though exposed to wind and weather, to 
all the nuisance of birds and insects, not to speak of the 
injuries inflicted by man, without being able to shake them- 
selves free of one indignity. Animals can seek shelter; — 
and yet we can scarcely prevent ourselves from regarding 
trees as sensitive beings. They are certainly alive; — their 
bending seems often like a complaint that they must stand 
so immovably. The storm is besides the most joyless, — 
one may say, the most fearful aspect of Nature. The 
manifestation of so much unseen power, and the fact that 
one cannot at all comprehend how it suddenly rises and 
quickly shifts, make it much more terrible than the other 
appearances of nature which fall more within our ken. In 
storms I always think with great sympathy how you suffer 
from them, since your garden-house, as you say, secures you 
so little. 

You must again permit yourself to be pleased with me 
for letting myself expatiate on my passion for trees ; but 
you are so good, and you say so very kindly that your own 


appreciation of my favourites of free nature has been greatly 
increased, and that you view with moi-e love than before 
the leafy inhabitants of your little plot ! These are expres- 
sions so beautiful and womanly, that I have read them with 
great pleasure, and thank you, dear, good Charlotte, right 
heartily for them. 

•jf * * * 

You allude in your letter to my intended journey to 
Silesia this summer, and say that this is less pleasant to 
you, because it seems such a great distance off. But I go, 
I am sorry to say, still further this summer, although I 
shall not touch Silesia. I mean to accompany my wife to 
the baths at Gastein. This spa lies behind Salzburg, and 
is therefore about a hundred and twenty miles from here. 
We leave, however, in July at the earliest, and I shall tell 
you in my next letter, which I shall write before my de- 
parture, to what address I shall beg you to direct your 
letters to me. I shall take this opportunity, too, of visiting 
Munich, where I have not been for many years We 
shall be absent till September, as the journey backwards 
and forwards takes up a long time, and our stay at Munich 
has to be added to it. Gastein is one of the most interest- 
ing spots in Germany. I have not, indeed, yet seen it 
myself, as in former years my wife was there without me ; 
but I know Salzburg; and there begins the range of moun- 
tains of which the valley in Avhieh Gastein lies is in some 
sense the last and most remote. This place is but little 
visited from the North of Germany; but a great many 
come to it from Austria and Bavaria, and even from Italy. 
Notwithstanding the concourse of visitors, the arrangements 
for their accommodation are very bad, and they seem to 
think very slowly of improving them. As I like Tegel very 
much, I leave it always un-vviliingly ; yet this feeling gives 
way as soon as I am seated in the coach, and in many re- 
spects I enjoy these months. I have not for a very long 
time seen any high mountains, nor indeed any truly great or 

284 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

noble views of nature, and I always place myself willingly 
in their neighbourhood. The waters of Gastein are besides 
among the most elFective which are known. These journeys 
to the baths, however, are owing as much to fashion as to 
a regard for health. In my childhood and early youth it 
was very rare that any one, even when suffering severely, 
undertook a journey in order to restore his health by a 
bath. Men are now grown fonder of moving about, and find 
great pleasure in travelling here and there ; and, although 
everything is now dearer, they can more readily procure 
the means, and so arises every summer a real emigration to 
the baths. Still, I suppose, it is more the fashion here 
than elsewhere ; more, for example, than with you and your 

* * * * 

I am very sorry that the great heat of this year, which 
is by many, and by myself among the number, so much 
wished-for and enjoyed, has so unfavourable an effect on 
you, and, what is worst of all, awakens in you so much 
anxiety. I shall rejoice if your next letter brings me bet- 
ter news. 

It seems to me very remarkable that you remember so 
long a series of summers in which there was little warmth. 
It is true, as you remark, that I was then absent, and liv- 
ing in southern climates. I am apt, however, to forget 
easily what has occurred in the times in which I have 
myself lived. I am much better acquainted with earlier 
history. Partly I do not attend to what is passing, partly 
I place it in the times to which it does not belong. There 
remains with me that only which has struck me somewhat 
deeply in spirit or in feeling. But events — things in 
course of taking place — escape me easily. This summer, 
however, everything is remarkably early. Roses are al- 
ready over, — the lilies will soon be so. For lilies I have 
a particular partiality; their colour, growth, smell — all 
is exceedingly delightful, and besides that, they have a 


splendour wliicli belongs to no other flower. In Italy and 
Spain one sees flowers growing wild, which with us are to 
be seen only in gardens. But the lily is very rare. On the 
island of Ischia near Naples, there is a species of lily very 
aromatic in odour, but the colour is not so radiantly white, 
and inclines rather to grey. They grow only in one part 
of the island, and, curiously enough, though elsewhere the 
lily requires a good soil, it is in the hardest of sands at 
the edge of the sea. The inhabitants relate that it is a 
sort of miracle; that they are indebted for it to the saintly 
Eosalia, the sacred guardian of the island. It is on the 
very spot where she suffered martyrdom that these lilies 
now grow. 

You say that you have received a kind letter from the 
daughter of Becher, the Director of the Rhenish West- 
India Company. The father of the lady is a very plea- 
sant, interesting man, who inspires one, as soon as he 
appears, with confidence in his insight, activity, skill, and 
aptitude for business. Some of his children wei'e born in 
England, He made a long stay there, partly in London, 
partly in Manchester, and had formed extensive projects 
in manufactures, but was obliged to abandon them at the 
time of the war with France, and then, for the first time, 
he returned to Germany. Despite his very long stay in 
England, he was not very happy there. It must be owing 
to something in the manner of life, the scenery, and the 
impression made by the national featui'es and language, that 
there are so few men who choose to pass their days in a 
foreign land. Single exceptions one certainly finds, even 
among the Italians, some of whom prefer to live in Peters- 
burg ; but these are always rare. Even those who are pre- 
vented by circumstances from returning to their father- 
land, still retain a longing for it, and try many plans to be 
again restored to it. 

You speak much, dear Charlotte, in your last letter, 
about storms, in answer to something which I had said in 

286 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

one of my letters on that subject. I received your dear 
sheets just during a violent storm. That you should some- 
times cherish a wish to die by a stroke of lightning is a 
thing I would be far from blaming ; I find it, if one brings 
death closely present to one's mind, very natural, and should 
myself, without hesitation, share the feeling. It is a death 
so pure — not at all disfiguring — scarcely painful; and al- 
though we know that one always quits life by the ordination 
of Providence in whatever way it may happen, still it is not 
possible to banish the idea from the imagination — an idea 
present also, as you say, to your childish years — that such 
a death appears like one which comes immediately from 
Heaven. Among the elements there is no purer or more 
beautiful flame than that caused by the simple power of 
electricity in nature. This kind of death, too, occurs amid 
such a majestic scene, that its violence seems to disappear. 
No death produced by external circumstances comes so near 
to nature as this. It is indisputable, however, that those 
struck in a storm neither see the lightning nor hear the 
thunder : in a single second, life and consciousness must be 
gone. — It is surely strange that persons who are afraid of 
storms are usually most alarmed by the thunder ; whereas, 
when the thunder is heard, all danger is past. Whatever 
one may say on this point, however, matters nothing. It 
arises certainly from this, that thvmder, through its fright- 
ful peals and slowly accumulating roll, shakes the nerves, 
and thereby prevents or at least weakens all quiet and in- 
telligent reflection. The fear caused by storms may not, 
however, always be merely fright and anxious care for the 
threatening danger, but oftener a certain influence of the 
thunder and lightning on excitable nerves. But it is not so 
easy a question to answer, whether it be preferable to be 
called suddenly away from the scene, or to die slowly in the 
consciousness that one is dying. I assume, of course, that the 
slow death is also a painless one. Even theologically the ques- 
tion has been raised. The reason why one might wish a slow 


death is certainly no other than that one may have time to 
prepare himself for the event, and so not die impenitent. I 
set small store by this reason, I confess, and am certain, 
even vathout your explanation, that we are of the same 
opinion. The preparation for death must occupy the whole 
of life ; for life itself, even from its first step, is an approach 
towards death. But though I cannot yield to this reason, 
yet there is much to be said in behalf of a death which one 
foresees, and which is linked with consciousness, at least in 
respect of individual feelings. There is always something 
very shocking in the idea of being suddenly called away, 
even when it is by a simple stroke of apoplexy. Then there 
is something human in the wish not to withdraw one's self 
from the feeling of death, to grow acquainted with it, and 
to observe the ebbing of life, even till the last breath. 

Farewell, dearest Charlotte, and take means to protect 
yourself from the heat which has so unfavourable an in- 
fluence on you. Your plan of always relieving yourself by 
blood-letting disquiets me. You can thereby only become 
weaker. — Yours, H. 

288 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Landshut, July 19, 1827. 

I have arrived here early enough to be able to write 
you, dear Charlotte, from this place, and am very glad of it. 
I hope to reach Munich the day after to-morrow, if I en- 
counter no unusual hindrance on the way, and expect to find 
there a letter from you ; for I know assuredly that you have 
sent off the letter on the day on which I begged you to do 

so I engage unwillingly in travel at present, 

and never without weighty reasons. I do not at all fear the 
inconveniences, but I do not like the preparations, though 
I dispose of these very simply. But travelling would not 
be so disagreeable to me were it not that it distui-bs my 
business. One cannot prevent travelling from becoming a 
sort of idleness, or at best a species of busy indolence. I 
take as much precaution as possible against this, it is true, 
and if I cannot carry on the same occupations as usual, I 
try at least to make it only a change, not a cessation of 
labour. Work, according to my feeling, is as necessary as 
eating and sleeping. Even those who do nothing which a 
reasonable man would caU labour, imagine themselves to be 
doing something, and there is no one who would willingly 
be thought quite an idler in the world. But there is a 
different sort of occupation which may be enjoyed Avhile on 
a journey, namely, quiet thought, — Avithout moving even 
a finger — without reading or wi'iting. This is an enjoy- 
ment which one can certainly have at home ; but we are 
so pedantic, that even irregular activity does not permit 
us to enjoy it unless perhaps during a solitary walk. I 
attach much importance to this, and therefore even will- 
ingly endure sleepless nights, only that I have these seldom. 


except when in sickness; for in health I sleep well and 
soundly. In travelling, however, it becomes necessary, and 
thus I have the pleasure, while the will is justified. If a 
person travels, as I do at present, with one to whom he likes 
to speak, as I with my wife, when the conversation does not 
flag, and when one is stirred up more effectually than when 
alone, then the case is different. But I was speaking at first 
of solitary travel. It is certainly true, however, that men 
do not alloAV themselves sufficient time for leisurely reflec- 
tion. They will do anything rather than think, even when 
quite disengaged, or, if they have no calling to some higher 
occupation, they will prefer to do nothing. The occupations 
of men are unfortunately such as exclude simultaneous re- 
flection, while yet they do not themselves afford the mind 
any worthy exei'cise. To these occupations, however, there 
are many who have the silliness to attach a value, and even 
to be somewhat vain about them. This is plainly one of 
the reasons why women are in general more interesting than 
men ; for in the occupations of women the calm tranquillity 
of the soul is less disturbed by the outward activity. Both 
move forward in harmony together, and the value of thought 
and feeling is more deeply felt. A woman, in other respects 
qualified, yields herself to both with more devotion. 

The country between this and Berlin is not of remarkable 
beauty. Single spots here and there are fine. The region 
of the really lofty mountains begins between Munich and 
Salzburg, and extends as far as Gastein. I have been several 
times in Munich and Salzburg, but have never made a long 
stay in either of these towns. The road as far as this, and 
on to Munich, runs indeed through provinces exceedingly 
rich in the various beauties of nature ; but they do not lie on 
the way, — partly by chance, and partly because a more level 
route has been chosen. Baireuth is a particularly pretty 
country, and is indeed the most attractive district between 
this place and Berlin. It has peculiarities not easily found 
in any other country. Great heaps of the bones of large 

VOL. I. C C 

290 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

animals, and even entire parts of skeletons, are to be met 
with in huge wide subteranean caves. You will doubtless 
remember having read about them. There was much talk of 
them even in the newspapers for a while. The collection 
was partly of bones of well-known animals, which are not, 
however, now found alive in that neighbourhood, and partly 
of animals whose species appear to be extinct, as there is 
nothing now known of them in any country. There are also 
many petrified plants and animals of every sort found in the 
mountains of Baireuth, — more indeed in them than in most 
other mountain-ranges. It is very difficult to explain why 
no human petrifactions have ever yet been found, not sim- 
ply here, but in no part of the world. The bones of men 
ai'e as liable to petrifaction as those of animals; and in the 
order of creation there is no considerable interval between 
the peophng of the globe with irrational animals and with 
man. One might otherwise believe that the epoch in which 
animal substances passed into stone went before the period 
when men spread themselves over the earth. 

The next stage from here, on the other side of Baireuth, 
is a surprisingly attractive and wonderful place, — a small 
market-town, named Berneck, sui'rounded on all sides by 
mountains covered with fir, which enclose a very narrow 
circular valley. The mountains jut out much, and over 
the church-spire there hang many quite bare, pointed crags. 
On one of these mountains rises a high square tower, which 
stands out quite conspicuously. It is not applied to any 
particular use, but it is nevertheless preserved with praise- 
worthy care as a relic of antiquity. I know, dear Charlotte, 
that you accompany me Avith your thoughts, and willingly 
learn through what country I go, and where I stop. You 
know and share also my love for the beauties of nature, and 
are aware that I often pass some time at spots which may 
appear to many not worth a single glance. Were it other- 
wise, I should have asked yovir pardon, — and all the more 
as you have told me that you do not in general care much 


about descriptions of travel, and would rather receive from 
me letters -which lead you into the recesses of my thoughts. 
I am very grateful to you on both accounts, and it is to 
me a most pleasant idea that you look on my descriptions 
as paintings, especially because they are from me. It is 
always pleasant to become an object of attention even to a 
stranger; — how much more agreeable must it be to me to 
be accompanied in thought by you ! 

Farewell. — With unalterable sympathy, yours, H. 

292 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Bath op Gastein, August 5, 1827. 

I wrote you, dear Charlotte, on the way I think from 
Regensburg on the 19th, and hope that the letter will reach 
you, though it may be somewhat late, from the slowness of 

the post This place lies very near the highest 

mountains of Germany. One of them is 2000 feet above 
the level of the sea. The vale is singularly SAveet and 
beautiful. From Salzburg there is a good road; but the 
valley is very narrow. "We may thank the course of the 
river for this valley, in which it has its bed. The greater 
part of the way from Salzburg is by the Salza; but some 
miles from here it follows the Ache, which falls into the 
Salza. The road can very rarely however take the level of 
the valley; for the most part it hangs along the rocks, and 
runs below only when it crosses by means of a bridge to the 
other side of the river. Among the rocks it is supported by 
high Avails, but below only with wooden shafts. This road 
goes, however, only as far as the bath. Here a chain of 
mountains stretches away in an oblique direction. From 
this point the road is practicable only in small rude vehicles 
for perhaps an hour's journey; beasts of burden or horses 
must afterwards be used to cross the mountains. The view 
looking up the valley is beautiful. Several steps of the 
mountains are seen rising one above another, the lower of 
which are grown over with gloomy firs, and the uppermost 
covered Avith snoAv. At this mountain are situated the 
house in Avhich we and other visitors at the bath are living, 
and a castle built by the last Archbishop of Salzburg, which 
is neither fine nor large. Over this range, which closes the 
valley, the Ache runs, and forms a Avaterfall, which in its 


whole length would be very stupendous, but is broken into 
several sejoarate leaps. The entire height is 630 feet. The 
river is hemmed in on both sides by steep rocks, above 
which at some places the spray is seen to rise from a great 
distance. The situation of the castle is remarkable and 
interesting, as it approaches so closely to the rocks and the 
mountain adjacent. The farther side Avhich lies towards 
Gastein has a lofty flight of steps which lead from the court 
to the lower flat. Stall's and narrow paths with rails lead 
up the mountain and to the waterfall, which is scarcely 
twenty steps from the house, and makes a loud noise, of 
which the visitors at the bath, from the moment of their 
arrival till their departure, do not get rid for a second. 
This din is very annoying to many, especially to those of 
weak nerves, who take long walks to escape for an instant 
from it, cannot sleep, and make a great ado about it. For 
myself I rather like it. I occupy the chamber which is 
nearest to it, and work and sleep exceedingly well. The 
chief inconvenience is, that when one has visitors, it is 
necessary to speak louder than is agreeable, in order to 
make one's self understood. The narrow paths among the 
rocks behind the castle lead up to a bridge crossing the 
waterfall at its highest point. Peojile have given it the very 
inappropriate name of the " Bridge of Terror." It affords 
a sweet and attractive prospect, with nothing in the least 
alarming. If one crosses this bridge and ascends for a short 
way at the side of the rushing Ache, he reaches a valley 
much opener than the lower one, which is enclosed by higher 
mountains. In my opinion, however, it is not at aU so 
picturesque as this one, but it is possible to walk a long 
way in it without climbing; for which reason I choose it for 
walks in which I purpose to be occupied with myself rather 
than with the scenery. In the vale in which the bath is 
situated, which lies on the other side of the castle, there are 
some fine walks of every sort, but no place where one can 
go two hundred steps without being forced to climb or to 

cc 2 

294 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

descend. For those who have delicate feet this is inconve- 
nient, as they cannot go far in any one direction. Exercise, 
however, is by no means regarded as indispensable to a cure. 
One rather goes to bed for an hour or two after the bath, 
and it is considered advantageous if sleep follow. For the 
first few days before getting accustomed to the shaking and 
agitation, one does not succeed in sleeping; but at present 
I always sleep. I bathe at four o'clock in the morning; the 
usual length of time in the bath being an hour. The water 
at its source is very hot, being 40 degrees (90 of Fahren- 
heit) ; but it is allowed to flow early into the bath that it 
may cool; 27 or 28 degrees (about 62 P'ahr.) is the average 
temperature at which it is used. The water is drunk also, 
but the bath is the principal thing. Some are not even 
allowed to drink it. 

The vale would be robbed of its greatest beauty if de- 
prived of the waterfall. I can stand by it for hours together, 
and admire the dashing, boiling, and spouting which lash 
the water into froth and spray. At the few steep parts it 
rushes forward in long green arches, whose edges are 
whitened with foam, and everywhere there is a haste and 
activity, as if it were a matter of life and death to reach the 
quiet and peaceful valley. I have seen in Switzerland and 
Italy much greater and more beautiful waterfalls. This one 
belongs to those of a smaller order. But its length and 
variety, now a perpendicular steep, then more or less of a 
sloping surface, communicate to it a charm which the others 
do not possess. I have been very particular in my description, 
as I know that it will interest you on its own account, and 
still more as I am well assured that you gladly accompany 
me with your thoughts, and therefore willingly receive a 
pictui'e of a place which, so far as I know, has been little 
noticed. You see at the same time how pleasantly the time 
passes with me, as you know how much I enjoy a beautiful 

On my way hither I visited Munich, and remained there 



four days. There are many choice works of art to be seen 
at Munich. The king has bought a great number of ancient 
statues and paintings, and buildings of regal splendour are 
being erected in order to preserve them. The climate of 
Munich is, as you say, by no means pleasant. In summer, 
it is true, one does not equally remark this; but as the 
town lies very high, it has not only very severe winters, 
but is exposed to bitterly sharp and cutting winds. The 
springs and autumns are especially complained of. The 
immediate neighbourhood, too, is far from beautiful. The 
English garden affords the only pleasant walk, and it is 
certainly a fine spot. 

I beg you to post your next letter to me on the 28th of 
August, and address it to Berlin as usual. Farewell. — 
With heartfelt friendship and sympathy, yours, H. 

[Note. — The district of Salzburg or Salzach in Upper Austria is 
an Alpine country, like Switzerland and the Tyrol, and is covered 
by the Noric Alps, the chief summits of which exceed 12,000 feet 
in height. This district, although little known or frequented, is full 
of natural attractions. " The principal valley," says Hassel, " one 
of the most lovely that has been formed by nature and adorned by 

the industry and magnificence of man is enclosed by 

lofty mountains, the continuation of the central Alpine chain, which 
passing through Tyrol to the eastern frontier of Salzburg, forms an 
uninterrupted chain of glaciers, here called Kees, presenting all the 
varieties of Swiss scenery, defiles, avalanches, cascades, lakes, &c." 
The cascade of the Krimonler Ache is the most striking in Austria ; 
the torrent falls in five breaks from a height of above 2000 feet, 
forming at last a magnificent arch.] 

296 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Bath of Gastein, August 21, 1827. 

I received some days ago, dear Charlotte, your letter of 
the 5th, and am glad that you received the one which I 
posted at Regensburg. I hope that you have since got that 
also which I wrote from this place. You were kind in 
sending off your last letter earlier than I had directed. In 
this attention I recognise with great pleasure your anxiety 
to inform me early of what you know always very much 
interests me. 

Although everything in your letter pleased me, yet I 
read with special interest Avhat you say about a French 
family whom you have known for years, and who have just 
returned to Germany. The young and lately-married wife, 
whom you evidently regard with particular affection, has 
most of all attracted my attention. After all that you say 
of her, even though your love may have influenced your 
judgment, she must certainly be a woman of great ami- 
ability, I shall gladly receive any additional news of her 
and the family which you may be so good as communicate. 
I always like, as you know, to get acquainted with mankind 
through individuals : each new figure, whether it is person- 
ally known to us, or lives only in the fancy from description, 
sensibly enriches the mind. I suppose that I am right in 
imagining from your account that this is an emigrant family 
driven by the Revolution to seek a refuge from the dangers 
which threatened them at home, and who only wait in 
Germany for a favourable change of affairs in order to 
return into Finance. The influence of German manners? 
education, and society, cannot be wholly lost on the children 
of such emigrants as pass here some of those years of life 


in which the mind opens and develops itself. In youth, 
the mind does not resist every foreign influence as it does 
at a later period. Its susceptibility anticipates the con- 
trasts of things, rather than waits till they occur. It is 
certainly true, however, that the residence of French emi- 
grants in Germany has, through the influence of one cir- 
cumstance, been rendei'ed almost as fruitless as if they had 
never set foot in our country. The same influence has also 
operated on the children of many families, although others 
have unquestionably availed themselves of the benefits of a 
German education. I know even cases in which some who 
left home when young have so linked and associated them- 
selves to everything German, that they have finally taken 
up their residence among us, and speak their own language 
with less fluency than before. These cases, however, are 
rather the exceptions. The circumstance which has operated 
with these people is their familiarity with our language, and 
with the later specimens of our literature. What you say 
on this topic in your last letter but one is exceedingly just. 
The language certainly constitutes the true home. We long 
to be where its tones are heard, and nothing makes us so 
soon forget our country as the ability to express ourselves 
in the dialect of those among whom we may be residing. 
The influences of climate act in some cases very powerfully. 
The home-sickness of the Swiss is to be traced to these, at 
least in part, for all the natives of mountainous countries 
have the same feeling of pain when away from their homes. 
He who is accustomed to the pure invigorating air of the 
mountains cannot easily accommodate himself to the vaUeys, 
and the plains weigh on his spirits by their damp, heavy at- 
mosphere. But the power of impressions received through 
the ear is remarkable, even when language has nothing to 
do with it. These have in every sense a more penetrating 
sharpness than impressions made through the eye. It is 
well known that nothing so affectingly awakens the home- 
sickness of the Swiss as the very singular combination of 

298 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

tones, quite peculiar to themselves, which they call the 
" Kuhreihen" ( Ranz-des-vaclies) , and which are not accom- 
panied by words, nor arranged on any principle of melody or 
music. But to return to the French emigrants. I believe 
that the influence of German manners and language has been 
on the whole greater with respect to the men than to the 
women. The boys and young men not only enjoyed more 
intercourse with the educated classes, but efficiently availed 
themselves of the German Schools and Universities, which 
introduced them to a full acquaintance with the language. 
The girls, on the contrary, chiefly confined to the society of 
their parents, who retained all their national peculiarities in 
full vigour, learned our dialect in an artificial way, through 
the aid of schoolmasters, or in the company of servants. In 
neither of these ways was it possible for them to extract out 
of our modes of thought and sentiment what would have 
been really beneficial for them. For I hold it to be beneficial 
to blend our peculiarities with those of any of the civilized 
nations of Europe. It breaks off our one-sidedness ; and 
where this takes place in the right way, we do not lose 
what is proper to us, but the sharp corners of character 
are smoothed away, while we retain more firmly the reaUy 
valuable and noble qualities of it. 

We shall probably leave this the day after to-morrow 
the 23d, by the most direct route to Tegel. The journey 
occupies ten or twelve days, so I expect to arrive on the 
2d or 3d of September. We may, however, be detained 
here for a day or two longer, which one the less grudges as 
the spot is so beautiful. I have ah-eady begged you, dear 
Charlotte, to write me on the 28th of August to Berlin as 
usual. Your letter will thus either arrive along with me, 
or shortly before. — Farewell. With friendly interest, yours, 




Tegel, Sept. 5, 1827. 

I returned here, dear Charlotte, on the 3d, and found 
waiting for me, as I expected, your kind letter of the 25th 
and 28th August, for which I heartily thank you. I attach 
much importance to regularity; and even letters such as 
yours, which I always receive and read with joy, are doubly 
acceptable when they come exactly at the time expected. I 
do not overlook your punctuahty in writing, and know how 
to value it. You will certainly have got my letter of the 21st 
August by the time these lines arrive. My former letter, 
as I see from yours, was twelve days on the way, and you 
must therefore have received the other this mornina:. I 
left on the day I intended, and have been also able to oc- 
cupy every day on the journey in the manner previously 
determined. The road is long, however, and if you wish to 
stop a night in every large town you must often make short 
journeys. I stayed a day in Baireuth, but nowhere else, 
arrived at Berlin on the evening of the 2d, and found 
myself here on the 3d. I remain in this place till the end 
of October, and even longer if the weather should be good, 
before I go to town. It Avas very kind in you to think of 
my journey during the late disagreeable weather. It was 
indeed most unpleasant from the morning of the 25th of 
last month, the day I left, till the 30th, when I reached 
the plains of Leipsic. The rain did not fall long at one 
time, nor continually, nor yet violently; but it showered 
more or less every day, the sky Avas perpetually clouded, 
and there was hardly a glimpse of sunshine during the 
whole course of our journey. Yet I had happily a toler- 
able day in Salzburg, which was very fortunate; for it 

300 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

would be difficult to find a more lovely position and neigh- 
bourhood. A large fruitful plain stretches around, from 
which are seen mountains of all sizes, distributed in beauti- 
ful masses both at hand and in the distance. Single small 
mountains, which anywhere else would be called great, but 
which appear like hills when contrasted with their loftier 
neighbours, approach the town, and even form a part of 
it. The citadel rises on one of them, a Capuchin convent 
on another, and a third is simply covered with beauti- 
ful gardens. This last one is in the outskirts of the city, 
and a passage has been cut through it by the Archbishop 
at considerable expense, in order, it is said, to afford his 
valet a nearer way to a garden he had presented him with. 
There is nothing remarkably fine after Salzburg as far as 
Baireuth. But Baireuth itself has a sweet and attractive 
sitiTation, although it cannot be compared with that of 

You appear to have a great respect for the waterfall of 
Gastein, and wonder why a man of a mild disposition like 
myself should have had so great a liking for a scene of that 
sort. There certainly seems to be in this a certain contra- 
diction, but, more closely considered, the inconsistency dis- 
appears. For he who carries about with him a fearless 
calmness of temper, sees all surrounding nature through 
the medium of his own feelings, and Avhat is frightful and 
terrifying to others is to him only something great, solemn, 
and sublime. On the other hand, those of a gloomy, re- 
served, austere nature, demand of friendship and kindness 
to assume a merely silent form; for, if they have no mind 
to change their humour, they do not wish that these should 
approach them in a way to some extent hostile to their 
cherished feelings. 

All that you say, dear Charlotte, of your opinions and 
feelings respecting me, gives me the greatest pleasure. The 
deep and sincere respect, the rare and tender truth which 
speaks in all your expressions, is highly agreeable, being a 


delightful proof that you recognise in me, and make most 
account of, that which it has been my chief effort to realize 
and preserve in myself. I may even say, that the lively 
gratitude you manifest is a right and proper feeling; but 
you may also believe assuredly that it communicates to me 
a perpetual happiness to have resumed my correspondence 
with you. I did so with the intention of not again allowing 
it to drop. 

With the most heartfelt sympathy, ever yours, H. 

VOL. L D d 

302 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Teqel, Sept. 21, 1827. 

I have duly received, dear Charlotte, your letters of the 
4th and 15th, and heartily thank you for them. Both have 
given me peculiar joy, as they present your sentiments in 
the most pleasant and agreeable form. The first letter also, 
coming as it did unexpectedly, gave me a delightful sur- 
prise, and was welcomed as a kind gift out of the regular 
way, for which certainly you can have no reason to ask 
pardon. It is because you like punctuality that I desire to 
have your letters on a fixed day. When I lately said that 
I preferred to receive a letter on the very day determined, 
and neither sooner nor later, I did not mean that one more 
was not always agreeable to me, on whatever day it might 

Your description of the family which I had without any 
reason considered as French emigrants, has interested me 
very much, and you have divided it very suitably in your 
own way in your two letters. I beg you to continue it ; for 
your account as yet contains too little about the daughter, 
who interests you most of all, and whom you call Theresa, 
to enable me to picture her to myself with sufficient dis- 
tinctness. The most important feature in her portrait is 
yet awanting. The father, so far as I yet know him, pleases 
me particularly by the activity, benevolence, and humanity 
which you have found him to possess. I am glad that you 
have renewed your connection with this family. To see 
those again from whom we have been long separated, and 
even with whom all acquaintance seemed to have been dropt, 
produces always a strong and lively feeling. For after all it 


is our relations with mankind which communicate a value 
to life ; and the deeper and more pervasive these are, the 
more do we become sensible of our own individuality, — 
in the recognition of which, indeed, consists at bottom our 
peculiar happiness. Even when we do not come into direct 
contact with men, but only hear of them from others, as in 
the present case, we share in the pleasure ; at least if the 
description paints the character in its essential, though 
seemingly minute, features, as is true of all your portraits. 
I am for this reason very glad that you have begun this 
narrative, and especially thank you for it. I shall follow 
the progress of the story in your next letter with equal, 
nay with greater interest, as Theresa, I expect, will appear 
in the continuation more fully drawn and more deeply cha- 

The circumstance, however, which rejoices me most in 
your letter, is what you say about your constantly increasing 
cheerfulness and contentment. It is a sure proof that your 
present external position and fortunes pretty well harmonize 
with your disposition. Preserve as much as possible, dear 
Charlotte, this state of mind. Man can always do very 
much for his own inward happiness, and can secure to 
himself what he should otherwise* have to expect from out- 
ward events. All depends on strength of purpose and on 
a certain habit of self-subjection. This, however, is the 
foundation of every virtue, as it is of every great inward 
sentiment. You say in your letter of the 15th, " I know 
that everything which is essential to my happiness at pre- 
sent will remain as it is just now." Certainly, dear Char- 
lotte, you have no reason to fear that I shall ever be less to 
you than I am at present. You were anxious about that 
once before; but however groundless your fears were then, 
yet they were more reasonable than they would be now. 
It is already more than two years since that time, and you 
have seen how useless yoiu- alarm was, and that not the 
slightest alteration has taken place, but that our relation 

304 w, VON Humboldt's letters. 

has thereby become more dear to you, and has assumed the 
form which most harmonizes with your wishes. A change 
in me is indeed impossible. I take the most hearty interest 
in you and your lot ; I desire your happiness, I contribute 
gladly to your joy, and yield cheerfully to your wishes so 
far as I may without being drawn out of my own circle of 
thoughts. I expect nothing for myself In conformity 
with your character and sentiments you could not deceive 
me, — but indeed I am not open to the deceptions of any 
one. I lay claim to nothing from anybody, nor approach 
any one with expectations. I preserve my inward wants in 
such exact equipoise with my personal ability to satisfy 
them, that I never need to look out of myself for their 
gratification. I can say with truth that I never calculate 
on being thanked for anything; but what I do for others, 
if it does not appear to me in some sense a matter of in- 
difference, takes its origin in ideas and principles which 
have to me a worth altogether independent of their influ- 
ence on others. Nor am I ever excited by anything. What 
constitutes my existence is separate in itself, and does not 
depend on any such contingencies as agitate in a small way 
the lives of so many. I blame nobody : others have their 
ways, and I have mine. , But mine is the surest and most 
gladdening. For this reason I am pleased with every ac- 
knowledgment and every sentiment of interest manifested 
towards me by others, and it gives me pleasure to be grate- 
ful. I esteem these feelings particularly as tokens of the 
spiritual character of those who cherish them. If one en- 
tertains for a long period such an affectionate, genuine, and 
respectful sentiment as you manifest, dear Charlotte, he 
naturally rises in my esteem. It accordingly always pleases 
me to see how you recognise the earnestness and self-sus- 
taining firmness of my ideas, my independence of external 
things, and my habit of shaping my happiness only out of 
my own inward resources, and that you gladly correct your 
own ideas through mine in any case in which they admit of 


improvement. It will certainly always and still more be so. 
My inward sympathy, my readiness to be beneficially useful 
to you, will remain unchangeable. 

I beg you to write me not later than the 2d October. 
The autumn is wonderfully beautiful ; although this is al- 
ways our best season, and the one on which we can most 
calculate, it appears to me that it surpasses itself this year. 
Farewell. With sincere sympathy, yours, H. 

nd 2 

306 'vv. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Tegel, October 8, 1827. 

I received some days ago, dear Charlotte, your letter of 
the 2d October, which has rejoiced me anew, and for which 
I heartily thank you. 

What think you of this splendid weather 1 It is impos- 
sible to let it pass by unmoved. I like our northern climate 
because the seasons have such a marked difference, and do 
not flow monotonously into each othei'. It is otherwise in 
southern countries. Spring there is not perceptibly distin- 
guished from winter, as it is with us ; it is I'ather only a 
milder continuation of it. The transition, however, from 
the torpidity and blankness of winter to the cheerful warmth 
of spring, makes a deep and enlivening impression on the 
spirits. Nature passes through autumn into the rigidity 
of winter, and the change and succession of these three 
seasons, as they are seen linked together, associate them- 
selves with the great ideas which come always most empha- 
tically home to man, — the torpor of death and the resur- 
rection to a new life. These changes and transition-states 
are equally represented, though in quite different forms, by 
what we see and experience around us, and by what arises 
in the inward depths of the soul. But Nature presents 
this most vividly in the changes of the seasons, in the de- 
positing of the seed within the earth, which covers it with 
maternal affection, in its upspringing into new life, and in 
many other phenomena which may be regarded as symbols 
and allegories of this idea. It is indeed the great thought 
of Nature herself, whose very existence consists in a per- 
petual self-renovation. Were men always thoroughly pene- 


trated with this idea, they would much oftener give a 
different direction to their thoughts, feelings, and actions, 
than they do. They would be sensible that the whole pur- 
pose of life is to arrive at a certain maturity, in the pos- 
session of which alone it is possible to make the passage 
out of a limited and imperfect condition into one more 
free and complete. For we cannot imagine that death and 
a resurrection to a new state of existence are merely acci- 
dents, or depend on outward events. A departure from 
life, whether it be early or late, certainly stands in vital re- 
lation to the inward being of the individual, and is always 
a token that, in the view of the Almighty, from whom 
nothing is concealed, a further development on this stage of 
existence would not be advantageous for him who is quitting 
it. In like manner, death may not have the same influence 
on aU persons : it may operate differently, for example, on 
him who has attained in life to a higher and more spiritual 
maturity, and on him Avho on the contrary has lagged 
behind. Death and a new life always take hold of that 
which they already find waiting for them. Man must 
therefore cultivate this maturity in himself; and the ripe- 
ness for death and for a new life is one and the same thing. 
For it consists in a separation from earthly interests, an 
indifference to earthly pleasure and earthly activity; it is a 
life of ideas which take no hold of the world, a withdrawal 
from the desire after happiness ; it is, in short, a state of 
mind in which one is unconcerned about the manner in 
which he is here dealt with by fate, and looks only to the 
goal after which he aspires, — in which, therefore, he ex- 
ercises his power of self-denial, and gains a brave mastery 
over himself Out of this condition of mind there arises the 
cheerful, fearless composure which, needing nothing from 
without, spreads itself over life like a second sky — a spiri- 
tual one — answering to the unclouded blue of heaven which 
overspreads the visible canopy. 

* * * * 

308 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

The conclusion of the desci-iption of your renewed ac- 
quaintance with the family of S has also greatly in- 
terested me. The youngest daughter, Theresa, must be a 
singularly amiable person, and must possess unusual mental 
and personal accomplishments. Her picture is most attrac- 
tive, even should it have been drawn with an affectionate 
pencil, and I again heartily thank you for it. — With un- 
alterable sympathy, yours, H. 



Tegel, October 26, 1827. 

Make no excuses, dear Charlotte, should you ever write 
a post later than the day on which I may have expressed a 
wish for a letter. You are always so punctual and attentive, 
that I am sure, when it so happens, some unavoidable ob- 
stacle has come in the way of writing. Besides, I fix the 
days only because you wish it. 

In your last letter you said quite rightly that the 18th 
October, which immediately after the event that appeared 
then so astonishing was intended to be always celebrated, 
is already almost forgotten. It will certainly be still com- 
memorated in Hamburg, but I believe nowhere else. It is 
in the nature of things for one event to tread on the heels 
of another ; and it is scarcely possible that any one should 
occupy our attention for a very long time. The beneficent 
consequences, however, are inwardly remembered with gra- 
titude : we think of the wonderful arrangements of destiny, 
by which the human race won such an advantage on a cer- 
tain memorable day; but the lively joy which transports us 
amid the universal jubilee dies away, and what shortly after 
the moment appeared a most extraordinary event, — nay, a 
real miracle, — is soon regarded as a thing in the ordinary 
course of affairs. Even should this be wrong, it is yet natural, 
and has taken place ever since the beginning of the world. 
For myself I cannot very much blame it. Everything be- 
longing to statesmanship and the interests of the world is, 
in all outward respects, of the greatest importance ; it creates 
and destroys in a moment the happiness, often the existence, 
of thousands; but as soon as the wave of the moment has 
rushed by, and the storm is laid, its influence is lost, and 

310 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

even frequently disappears without leaving a trace behind. 
Many other things, silently determining the thoughts and 
feelings, make often a far deeper and more lasting impres- 
sion on us. Man can for the most part keep himself very 
independent of all that does not directly interfere with his 
private life, — a very wise arrangement of Providence, since 
it gives a much greater security to individual happiness. It 
is also certain, that the more firmly men adhere to their 
individuality, the more blessed is the influence which they 
exercise on the dispositions and happiness of others. These 
views, it is true, are a good deal at variance with the pre- 
valent ideas of right and wrong : what, according to these, is 
deemed of greatest importance, becomes almost indifferent, 
and a peculiar significance is conceded to what is little 
thought of But they are not the less true on that ac- 
count; and they will certainly be accepted by all whose 
spiritual sense has not been entirely blunted by the con- 
ventional arrangements of society. The different epochs of 
life, too, modify our opinions of these matters. To youth 
and early manhood, everything which is enacted on a large 
theatre speaks with more than ordinary force; while age 
strips off the false glitter of things, although it does not 
regard them as hollow and empty, nor without their due 
significance. We learn to seek and to value only the purely 
human element in them, and this proves itself unchangeable 
so long as we have strength to associate ourselves with it. 



December 1827. 
We stand once more at the close of a year. The month 
which brings the year to an end (we have ah-eady often dwelt 
on this subject in our letters) has always for me something 
at once solemn and exciting. We say indeed a thousand 
times to ourselves that the divisions of the year are arbitrary 
and unimportant, and that, in fact, should we wholly forget 
which week, month, or year it was in which we were living, 
time would flow on just as much improved or neglected 
by us as it is now turned to account or misapplied. But 
this dry, rational philosophy takes no hold upon actual life, 
and there is no one with the least sensibility who ever suf- 
fers the 31st of December and the 1st of January to pass 
like any other two successive days. It is as if man tried, 
by distributing time into parts, to put a stop to its flight, 
or at least to interrupt its unbroken course. Time itself, 
it is true, never pauses; but man is made to stand, so to 
speak, upon a narroAv boundary between the past and the 
future, where he tranquilly collects his thoughts, takes into 
view the period of time which has just flown, and invests that 
which is approaching with new purposes, projects, hopes, 
and cares. I should not Hke ever to lose the occasions and 
opportunities of so doing. Let us need them as little as we 
may, it is nevertheless well to be admonished in this way. 
For time is pecuHarly a monitor : he admonishes by the fact 
that the steps which he has once taken can never be re- 
traced; — he presses likewise on the present through the 
uncertainty of the future ; while man remains fixed between 
this certainty of time past on the one hand, and the uncer- 
tainty of what is to come on the other, always conscious 

312 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

that the period which has been suffered to pass unimproved 
is irrecoverable, and yet unable to foresee whether the future 
will afford a chance of redeeming the lost opportunity. Be- 
sides, I attach much importance to whatever is characteristic 
of certain, or rather of all epochs in life. Each period is 
accompanied by its own manners, habits, and requirements, 
and wisdom just consists in not assigning to one period that 
which belongs to another. 

I have, as you know, dear Charlotte, a peculiar love for 
the clear, starry, winter nights, and I rejoice not only that 
you share this feeling of mine, as you do so many others, 
but also, as you say, that I have contributed to strengthen 
it in you. Yes, it often delights me to think that our 
glances doubtless frequently meet in some planet or con- 
stellation during the bright and beautiful winter nights 
which we have at present, since you see from your house a 
wide and free horizon on all sides. The joy I feel on such 
occasions is certainly connected more or less with habit. In 
my youth, so early as my twentieth year, I used to stroll 
for whole nights through the streets here, or wherever I 
was residing. When I gaze on the motions and revolutions 
of the stars it always strikes me that it is only the divi- 
sions of time of which I have just been speaking which knit 
us to these distant worlds : through these we refer their cor- 
responding positions to certain periods in our destiny, and 
ourselves to some epoch in their course. 

This exercise thi'ough which we become immersed as it 
were in these remote distances, and lose ourselves in this 
crowd of worlds which present themselves to the eye like a 
single sea of light, gives me quite a peculiar delight, and so 
enchains me that I cannot break from it even after many 
hours' continuance. Should Jupiter be visible, I always turn 
to him first, and rejoice in his clear, mild, fair light; I then 
pursue the immeasurably distant fixed stars, and delight 
when the eye at last loses itself in the indistinct shimmer of 
the milky- way. Even simply to look into the deep night as 


it strikes off into empty space is fine, especially now wliile 
the moonless nights are so completely and inexpressibly dark. 
In general it is worthy of admiration how much pleasure is 
communicated by fixedly and continuously gazing on quite 
simple objects in nature. You have doubtless sometimes 
sat by a pool or lake merely for the purpose of allowing the 
eye and the thoughts to become absorbed in contemplation 
of the water. To do so is to me one of the greatest enjoy- 
ments ; and the smallest rivulet, the quietest pool, or the 
most unimportant lake, is sufficient for this purpose. It is 
the pure, clear, untroubled element, which exercises this 
power over me. I have always easily understood how it has 
been imagined that there are water-sprites who draw be- 
neath the surface any one who sits on the edge of a stream 
or lake. There is certainly a strong attractive power, and 
I sometimes feel as if I could willingly plunge into the 
depths in order to lie there in eternal peace. There is in 
this feeling no dissatisfaction with the land, nor any aver- 
sion to what it produces ; it springs from a pure love to the 
liquid element. — It is in general a prejudice to think that 
in order to enjoy nature we must have before us some 
beautiful aspect of it. However undeniable it may be that 
beauty exalts the charm, yet the pleasures of nature are not 
inseparable from it. Natural objects themselves, without 
making any pretension to beauty, awaken the feelings and 
occupy the fancy. Nature gives joy and animation, simply 
because it is nature. We recognise in her an illimitable 
might, greater and more efficient than all human powers 
put together, and yet' exciting no alarm; for every object 
in Nature meets our view as with an air of mildness and 
beneficence, since her universal expression is goodness in 
greatness. Even in cases where the scenery is composed of 
frightful rocks and objects of terrible beauty, yet Nature 
herself by no means inspires us with fear. We soon grow 
trustful, and feel ourselves at home amid the wildest and 
most desolate recesses, and we see that they yield peace and 
VOL. I, E e 

314' w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

tranquillity to him who, hermit-like, seeks repose among 
their solitudes. 

I am very sorry to learn that you suffer from low and 
depressed spirits, and it moves me to see how brief and 
slight an allusion you make to the matter, in order to with- 
draw me from its consideration. I know that in a life 
which, so far from being free of care, is rather full of it, 
unpleasant and vexatious events will arise to disturb the 
equanimity, as well as painfully to disappoint the soul of 
that peace for which it longs, and of which it stands so 
much in need. But these are states of mind which resemble 
the clouds, now rising and spreading out in gay and bright 
forms, and at another time gathering in thick and gloomy 
masses; it is not always possible to see from whence they 
came, nor whither they go; — but the sun dispels them. 
The will of man is the sun to his soul. When, however, the 
soul is heavily oppressed with suffering, will is not sufficient : 
we then need faith. Faith alone can raise us above the 
petty affairs of daily life and worldly impulses, and give to 
the soul a direction towards something higher — towards 
those objects and ideas which alone are of value and im- 
portance. You possess something — yes, it dwells in you, 
dearest Charlotte — which you certainly esteem more than 
all which men are accustomed to call inward happiness. It 
is the peace of the soul. This is won and preserved in very 
different ways, according to the various directions in Avhich 
mankind look for it. He who lives in the full enjoyment 
of the comforts and even of the luxuries of life, needs this 
peace quite as much as he who is borne down with sorrows 
and cares. But he reaches it with more difficulty, for this 
peace is a simple feeling which is difficult of attainment 
amid complicated relations. It is indeed grounded in peace 
and purity of conscience; but something more than this is 
required for its realization. We must feel ourselves satisfied 
with our lot, and be able to say with calmness and truth 
that we have not murmured at our fortune, but received it 


when happy with humility, and when adverse with resig- 
nation and with genuine trust in the wise arrangements of 
God. As the difficulty of a situation heightens the merit 
of him who maintains himself in it without complaint, or 
who frees himself from it by his own efforts, in proportion 
as it is difficult and perplexing, so, in the way alluded to, do 
we attain a harmonious agreement with our lot, whatever it 
may be. You know, dear Charlotte, and exercise all these 
aids yourself. You need only to have confidence in your 
inward strength, and you will assuredly overcome the heavy 
and oppressive gloom of which you complain at present, if 
there be no other external ground of your feeling than I 
know of, — which, if there be, may in many subtle ways act 
upon your spirits. How earnestly I desire that everything 
which either in reality or in fancy has troubled you during 
the past year may vanish, and that the new one may com- 
mence cheerfuUy and happily ! With this heartfelt wish, 
yours, H. 

316 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Berlin, January 1828. 

The departiire of the year has always a 

certain touch of solemnity in it, — greater, in my opinion, 
than a birthday, as well as quite different from it. The 
latter has reference only to an individual, and even for 
him it is but one departure among those of the whole 
year. But the new year is a renewal of epochs to all, 
and it accordingly awakens a universal sympathy. The 
year itself, including the period which has just left us 
and that which is newly arrived, is regarded as a person 
of whom we take leave as well as whom we greet. Each 
year has its own historical events which weave themselves 
into our personal fate even when we have taken no share 
in them, as when we, almost by involuntary effort, just re- 
member to have heard, by the merest accident, of some 
pubHc occurrence or other. It is, however, no simple fancy 
that the years are fortunate or unfortunate for mankind, or 
that men are in the habit of considering them as they fall 
under the one class or the other. In this remark I do not 
allude to great misfortunes, but I speak of those minor 
errors in every undertaking — the disappointment of joyful 
expectations which have been formed either in one way or 
another; just as there are days, for example, in which we 
do everything unskilfully : each moment brings fol-th some- 
thing disastrous; we say what we ought not, and, as often 
happens in a dream, we never arrive at the object after 
which we are aspiring. All that is certainly less depen- 
dent on fortune than on man himself, who always forms 
his own lot. It often depends on our first impressions of 
the year, which may weaken our confidence in our future 


fortunes, or even inspire us with fear or at least with 
anxiety. The whole matter is sometimes a mere fancy. 
Thus it is with the date of the year. When it contains 
many odd numbers, one has, as it were, every reason for 
entertaining a sort of apprehension of disaster; but when, 
on the other hand, we have such beautifully even numbers 
as in 1828, we become inspired with a certain joyful as- 
surance, and embark in such a year with a cheerful feel- 
ing, as in a passage-boat, from whose fair proportions and 
equipments we gather a sort of promise that we shall be 
transported safely to the shore of the next year. 

When I said that each one shaped his own destiny, I 
uttered an old proverb, certainly of Pagan origin, but which 
has a very just meaning when taken in the Christian sense 
of the phrase. I speak, that is to say, of ovir inward fate 
— of the sentiment with which man receives impressions 
from external events, and that is always within our power. 
We can always preserve a state of mind which shall be 
submissive, resolute, and confident in the beneficent arrange- 
ments of a higher power ; and should this frame of mind be 
awanting in us, we can produce it. Unless man in this 
way depends solely on himself, he has no true freedom. 
* * * * 

While Providence determines the lot of mankind, the 
spiritual being of men is also brought into concord with 
it. There is such a harmony in this — (as there is indeed 
in all the arrangements of nature) — that it would be pos- 
sible to explain and deduce the one from the other without 
a higher ordination. But the fact only so much the more 
clearly and surely proves the existence of this higher or- 
dination which has created such a harmony in existence. 
* * * * 

I intend to undertake a long journey in the latter half 
of March, and will not return for six months. My youngest 
daughter, as you know, is married to M. von Biilow, who is 
at present Prussian ambassador at London. He has been 

E e 2 

318 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

there for several months, and my daughter wishes to follow 
him with her three little girls. My wife, my eldest daugh- 
ter, and myself, mean to accompany them. We shall go by 
Paris, stop there for some time, and afterwards proceed to 
London, where we shall remain for perhaps six weeks. From 
London, my wife, my eldest daughter, and myself, will re- 
turn to Paris, and proceed by Strasburg and Munich to 
Gastein, where we shall take the usual baths. According to 
this arrangement, we shall probably be back again about the 
end of September. I look forward to the journey with much 
pleasure, and the only thing which interferes with it is the 
necessity I am under of reaching Gastein by the middle of 
August. I am fond of the place, it is true, and like very 
well to be there, but I should prefer to spend more time in 
London on this occasion, even though my return here should 
be later. The baths Avill thus restrict my stay within certain 
limits. I shall revisit Paris and London with great pleasure. 
When I am not in the country, I prefer to live in the large 
cities. One feels again in solitude when in the midst of the 
whirl of life. Such a journey as we propose appears a very 
considerable one, — and so it is if we reckon by the number 
of miles ; but if we count the days which are passed in actual 
travel, we shall not find them so many after all. We shall 
never travel during night, for which reason it will be much 
less fatiguing than it seems at first sight. The weather may 
indeed be still cold and unpleasant in March, but the month 
of April is usually fine in Germany; and should it be raw 
in May, we shall at least be in the milder climate of France. 
My son-in-law has already got his house in London into 
perfect order, so that we shall avoid the inconveniences 
which one generally experiences in a strange place. I do 
not consider Paris strange; — I lived there for some years 
with my wife and family during the early part of my mar- 
ried life, and had two children boru there. My wife after- 
wards I'esided in it for some months without me, and during 
the war I was there twice without her. It is now eleven 


years at least since I was in Paris, and when I quitted it 
the last time by night, I thought that I should never return. 
I looked with the same feeling at the rocky coast of Eng- 
land when I left it in the year 1818. Fate has strangely 
ordered that I should again unexpectedly see these places, 
and that my son-in-law should occupy the same situation 
which I then filled. He will probably remain a long time 
in London, which will be an inducement to me to repeat 
my visits frequently. — My return to Paris and London has 
just recalled to my thoughts that some one has very prettily 
said that we gladly visit those places only which we have 
known in earlier years. The remark has arisen from a very 
accurate observation of things, for it is certainly true, and 
it does honour to the feelings of man. We regard places 
as we do men, and we feel a desire to visit those people 
only with whom we are already acquainted. 

The joy which the starry heavens communicate to your 
tranquil life gives me additional pleasure, since it has been 
elevated and increased by the expression of mine. I gladly 
answer your questions, at least as far as I am able. I can 
scarcely understand why the countless number of the stars, 
the infinity of space, in one word the boundlessness of crea- 
tion, should have in earlier times appeared fearful to you, 
and I rejoice that this feeling has left you. The greatness of 
nature is one of the most exalting, cheering, and gladdening 
ideas which I know; still more, however, is this true of the 
greatness of the Creator. Should we even be obliged to 
allow that the idea of greatness awakens in us a depressive 
feeling, yet it recovers its elevating and benign influence 
when it is considered in connection Avith the boundless 
goodness which expresses itself in all the works of creation. 
In general, however, it is only physical power and greatness 
which inspire us with a feeling in some sense terrible and 
oppressive. But if there be seen an infinite physical might 
in the creation and the universe, much more is there mani- 
fest a moral force which rules in everything. This form 

320 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

of power, however, which is the really sublime species of it, 
always enlarges the spiritual capacity of man, makes him 
breathe more freely, and ever appears to him in the mild 
aspects of comfort, help, and shelter. One may say with 
truth that this creative, almighty greatness lets itself be 
seen equally in everything, and excites ever the same admi- 
ration by its attractive strength. But one may with equal 
truth maintain, that it reveals itself in the stars of heaven 
with peculiar simplicity. The celestial bodies strike the 
fancy more powerfully ; everything connected with them is 
to be explained only by number and measurement, while 
yet they baffle both through their infinity. It is exactly 
because these bodies are so simple in their relations as to 
throw us back on mathematics for an explanation, that we 
better realize the extent of the sky than the magnitude of 
the earth with the creatures inhabiting it. — Write me, dear 
Charlotte, on the 26th, and be convinced that all you say 
has for me a peculiar interest, and is always welcome. 

Farewell, and reckon on my unalterable sympathy, 


Life is a gift which always comprises so much that is 
valuable to one's self, and, if we be willing, so much that 
is useful for others, that we have every reason to cultivate a 
disposition not only to pass it in cheerfulness and mental 
satisfaction, but, from a real sense of duty, to do everything 
in our power to embellish and render it advantageous both 
to ourselves and others. 

Earnestness in life, even when carried to an extreme, is 
something very noble and great; but it must not be allowed 
to disturb the common business of life, else it will yield only 
bitterness and produce injury. 



Berlin, March 21, 1828. 

I am rejoiced to have it in my power to say that the 
plan of our journey is so altered that we shall go by Cassel. 
Our arrangements are to leave this on the 31st, which will 
enable us to reach Cassel on the 2d of April. We shall at 
aU events remain there a night, possibly the following day 
also, and therefore two nights. 

I am very happy in the prospect of seeing you. It will 
only be for an hour or two, but it is pleasant, however 
short may be the time, to see each other again. Should I 
arrive in time I will call on you the same evening, but if it 
be too late, you may expect me the next day, even though 
it should be the evening before I can be with you. Should 
I be early enough, however, and remain also the following 
day, I shall see you on both days. Farewell. H. 

On the way. 

I thought yesterday up till five o'clock that I should be 
able to see you again, but something came in the way. If 
you had been living nearer, I might have seen you for half 
an hour. As it was, it was impossible. 

It has given me great joy to have beheld you in your 
own house, and has left a most agreeable impression on 
my mind. I shall certainly soon write you, dear Charlotte, 
from Paris, where I expect to find a letter from you. 


322^ w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Paris, April 23, 1828. 
I found, dear Charlotte, your letter of the 26th waiting 
my arrival here, and recognise your kind attention in having 
drawn for me a sketch of your dwelling. I thank you, 
however, with more lively gratitude for the cheerfulness 
which reigns throughout your letter, than even for this at- 
tention. I have been myself witness of your joy, and the 
delight which is expressed in this epistle has restored it with 
yet greater vividness to my thoughts. It has been to me 
a new and agreeable proof of the state of your mind, or 
I should ratlier say that I have now seen it in its living 
manifestation, incomparably more joyful than I found it in 
your letters, although it has always appeared in these up 
till this time. I greatly value the opportunity of having 
been personally with you: it has given me a vivid con- 
ception of your life, not to mention the delight of having 
again seen you. Life, as you have there arranged it, is 
very attractive, and affords evidence of the mind and skill 
with which you manage it. You enjoy a cheerful and com- 
fortable solitude ; and everything about your little dwelling, 
as well as about your garden, strikes one the moment of 
his arrival. And yet I saw both only in raw weather, and 
without the freshness and bloom of spring and summer. 
How much must the garden gain in beauty when seen in 
full luxuriant verdure ! I can now think of you at every 
moment, since I have myself beheld every spot in which 
you pass your life. I consider it a most admirable arrange- 
ment by which you have separated from your usual occupa- 
tions the roomy and pleasant apartment in which we were, 
and only use it when you have company or when you wish 


to be alone. A chamber always assumes to tbe eye of the 
person who occupies it, the character of what usually goes 
on in it; for which reason one ought to keep some place 
free from all associations of ordinary business or amusement. 
In that case the very walls would suggest to us a train of 
thoughts and feelings similar to those which on former oc- 
casions we had there experienced. The same remark is 
true of walks in the country. With me at least it always 
happens, that, after a short residence in any district, various 
ideas and sentiments connect themselves with different loca- 
lities, and the more they are appropriated to these, the 
stricter is the principle of association by which they are 
recalled and reproduced. But even the rooms up stairs, 
where you carry on your regular occupations, are pretty and 
convenient, though they are small. This contractedness, 
however, can communicate no feeling of constraint, so long 
as it is possible to escape so easily into a spacious garden. 
It would be quite different in town. Your whole arrange- 
ments, in which there is evidently so much judgment, order, 
and comfort, give rise to an impression still more pleasant 
and delightful, inasmuch as it is plain that you have your- 
self shaped and continue to preserve this way of existence. 
I certainly hope that your arrangements will be productive 
of yet happier consequences, although I cannot help think- 
ing that you might enjoy a life of less exertion and more 
leisure for the cultivation of your own tastes. I need not 
say how lively and sincere an interest I should take in the 
realization of this wish. 

* # * * 

We stopped three days in Frankfort. I regretted so long 
a stay there, as it has robbed us of just so many days longer 
stay here; otherwise I should have liked it well enough, for 
I have been always partial to Frankfort, and indeed there 
are very few cities in Germany which could bear comparison 
with it. It is distinguished in particular by two features. 
First, it has exceedingly beautiful environs, I do not speak 

324 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

here simply of the finely arranged plantations which sur- 
round the city, but of the district itself The Taunus range 
of mountains presents from several points a most charming 
view, to which the river contributes. Another thing is, 
that the town gives you an impression of its being inhabited 
by a population in affluent, or at least in comfortable cir- 
cumstances, — not accompanied here, as is often the case 
in other large cities, by poverty and conspicuous wretched- 
ness. This circumstance goes very far towards marring our 
pleasure in many places. We always sympathize with the 
whole community up to a certain point j and it is not agree- 
able to meet with too gTeat a contrast in the external con- 
dition of the people. 

From Frankfort we made rapid progress, and arrived in 
Paris on the fourth day, before the usual hour of dining, 
which is universally six o'clock. Travelling in France is by 
no means particularly agreeable. The roads are at present 
in part bad, indeed very bad — on the Avhole only tolerable — 
but nowhere very good. Good inns are to be found only in 
the largest provincial towns, as for example in Lyons. The 
look of the country and its inhabitants has nothing at all 
attractive or interesting. What has always most displeased 
me in France, however, is the appearance of the villages. 
They are not at all equal to our German hamlets. They 
consist either of a few houses which rise quite unexpectedly 
on one or on both sides of the road, without any trees, not 
surrounded by a garden or by anything which suggests one, 
or they resemble our market-places, and have nothing about 
them in the least degree rural. The inhabitants are no better. 
They have either a very poor or a very city -like appearance. 
In particular, the women and girls are far from being pretty 
or attractive. Their wooden clogs, however, which are so 
heavy and uncouth, contribute in a great degree to give 
them this disagreeable aspect. The uninteresting air of the 
country people and their dwellings detracts very much from 
the pleasure of travelling in France, and is remarked by all 


who pass through it. In Paris, however, I feel myself very 
comfortable. I pursue a mode of life quite opposite to 
my usual one. I walk or drive about the whole day, and 
literally I am at home only for an hour after rising, a few 
hours before going to bed, and sometimes, though seldom, 
a short while at mid-day. As I have been several times 
here since my first visit in 1789, I have made very many 
acquaintances, and these are always increasing. Then there 
are so many things to see, that the day goes lightly by, 
however long it may appear. 

Paris has grown very much more beautiful during the 
thirteen years that I have been absent. Many single build- 
ings of great beauty, and even entire streets and districts, 
have sprung up in the interval. The comfort, luxury, and 
population have increased, and the bustle and activity which 
were before so great, are now naturally greater. In the arts 
and sciences too, life and everything at all interesting have 
been improving. None of our cities can be compared to 
Paris. Even the largest German towns have in comparison 
an air of littleness about them. If one does not live in the 
country, a town like this is preferable to all others. 

I hope soon, dear Charlotte, to receive a letter from you. 
To fix a day for your writing is not advisable at this dis- 
tance. I only beg you to write me eight days after receipt 
of this letter, and again by Berlin. 

I shall not leave Paris before the 15th of May; but I 
shall certainly leave at that date if nothing unforeseen come 
in the way to prevent me ; but the 20th of May will be the 
very latest. Your letters for me addressed to London will 
be forwarded in the same way as to this place, and the dis- 
tance is rather less. 

With the deepest and sincerest sympathy, yours, H. 

VOL. I. 


326 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


London, May 20, 1828. 

We arrived here, dear Charlotte, yesterday afternoon, 
and I lose no time in telling you so. We are all perfectly 

well I have received yours, closed on the 

8th; — it has touched me deeply, and I thank you for it 

with my whole heart It is a very pleasant 

remembrance that I have seen you in the midst of your 
household arrangements. I can assure you with perfect 
truth that it has left on my mind a most agreeable im- 
pression. The solitary garden-life which you lead, in entire 
independence of every one, has, on the three grounds that 
it is independent, so true to nature, and so secluded, some- 
thing very fascinating. And you have yourself to thank 
for it; for you have created the existence which you enjoy, 
in the first place by a characteristic choice, and then by 
clear insight and a fine inventive faculty and sense of beaiity, 
associated with habits of reflection, industry, exertion, and 
perseverance. You may well respect yourself for having 
depended solely on your own eiForts, and so avoided be- 
coming a burden to any one, at the time when you so 
honourably suffered the irreparable loss of your property. 
You have gained a freedom which few enjoy, and in which 
every one must esteem you. I remember very well how 
you arrived by degrees at the expertness which you at 
present possess. You once gave me so true and natural a 
description of it, that I shall never forget it. You tell me 
also in your present letter how you succeeded not long 
ago for the first time in giving to the under part of 
your house an aspect so cheerful and comfortable. Your 
success has been admirable. The circumstance, however, 


which above all fills me with peculiar interest, is to see, 
that although you have no time for the reading which suits 
you, yet your spiritual life remains free, and is able to ele- 
vate itself in the midst of an existence calling for so much 
exertion as yours. You now repeat to me in writing what 
you told me verbally in the most pleasant manner, that 
you were gradually approaching to an entire agreement with 
my ideas — that you gather out of these the means of rais- 
ing yourself — and that you are enlightened by them. Oh ! 
how greatly has this expression of your disposition and of 
your womanly and exalted sentiments moved me ! If it 
then be so, dearest Charlotte, take to your immovably trust- 
ful heart the assurance that my sentiments for you are as 
unchangeable as my interest in you. 

* * # * 

We have got on very well since I wrote you from Paris. 
We left that city on the 1.5th, and on the 19 th embarked 
at Calais for London direct. The passage is at present 
made in steamboats; there is no other conveyance even for 
travellers, but it is a most convenient one. The boats are 
large, and, besides the engines, they have sails which are 
used when the wind is favourable, and you cross for the 
most part, as happened with us, in less than twelve hours 
from Calais to London. The weather was the most beauti- 
ful imaginable. For a few hours, as the wind was strong, 
we had rather a rough sea, which made the boat roll very 
much. Most of the passengers were sick, and many had to 
go to bed. I never have an unpleasant feeling on the water; 
and on this occasion I remained on deck, delighted with the 
wonderfully beautiful aspect which the sea presented. The 
sun-rise was particularly fine and magnificent, and it in- 
terested me the more that I had never before seen a sun- 
riise at sea. We steamed from the quay at three o'clock in 
the morning. — We have taken up our abode here with my 
son-in-law, and find it most pleasant to be in the bosom of 
our family. London always astonishes one anew by its large 

328 w. VON Humboldt's letters. ■ 

size, its enormous population, and the astonishing stir and 
bustle which such a multitude occasions. London has fewer 
fine free prospects than Paris, which, owing to its large 
public and its numerous private gardens, has here and there 
something of a country aspect. But as a town, — as a place 
in which vast masses of population, in great variety and yet 
in the highest condition of well-being, are congregated 
together, it awakens a higher admiration. 

We shall remain here for nearly two months, and then 
commence our journey homeward. In every case such an 
expedition is a great, and in our circumstances it was a 
difficult undertaking. But our chief object has been gained: 
we have brought a daughter and her children to the place 
of her destination. What remains to be done will I have 
no doubt go on as well as what has been accomplished. 
Yours, H. 



London, June 1828. 

In order completely to compose your 

mind, let me say one word more about the state of my 
laealth. I cannot fully comprehend, dear Charlotte, why 
you are so anxious about it. It is in the nature of things, 
and should not surprise you, that I am older since we met 
in Frankfort ; but I have not for one moment suffered any 
personal inconvenience from the hour we began our journey 
till the present time. I can accommodate myself without 
the least inconvenience to every irregularity. People here 
eat nothing befoi-e eight o'clock ; often, however, it is nearer 
nine. As the hour of rising in this house is late, I break- 
fast at half-past nine on coffee alone, and take nothing more 
till dinner. You need therefore be in no way alarmed on 
my account. 

Our stay here is drawing to a close. I am very sorry 
that I cannot remain longer, for there is no Avant of inte- 
resting objects to occupy us pleasantly for a much longer 
time than we can spare. There are a great many of the 
finest and most remarkable works of art, and an incredible 
wealth of statues and paintings; and this not merely in 
public but also in private collections, which it requires some 
time to discover. It is a much easier affair in Paris, where 
you find everything brought together into a few places. 
Besides, there is here much to be learned in science and 
philology, especially the latter, as people from every quarter 
of the globe meet in this city. It is at present, too, the 
gay season, so that one is invited out day and night with- 
out end. 

F f 2 

330 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

July 16. 

I leave this the day after to-morrow, and go again by 
Paris, where I shall stay only a week, and then depart for 
Gastein. I may perhaps stop at Munich should the King 
be there, as I wish to see him again. I am very much 
satisfied with my stay here, and leave with the consolatory 
reflection, dear Charlotte, that I have always made as much 
use of my opportunities as the circumstances allowed. I 
have not entirely missed anything, and have quite exhausted 
those objects which had a peculiar interest for me. We 
are all also perfectly well. The health of my wife is even 
better than it was. She has frequented no society, as people 
here always dine at eight o'clock evening, and often later, 
so that evening society does not begin before eleven o'clock. 
But she has seen everything which had an interest for her. 
Parliament is about to rise, and people are already leaving 
for the country, where they remain till March of next year. 
For arrangements here do not follow the season, but simply 
the order of public business. The field-sports also keep 
many in the country till late in autumn. London is then 
very much deserted, and you find scarcely any society. 
Those who have no country-seat are usually ashamed of this, 
and shut up their front-windows in order to make the world 
believe that they are in the country. Life in the country, 
however, is for the most part only the transposition of the 
society of the town. Every proprietor entertains a multi- 
tude of visitors, to whom his invitations extend to several 
days' stay. I may observe also that Englishmen are more 
open and accessible in the country than when immersed in 
the tumult of business and the amusements of the town. 

I and my wife have sometimes been present at the 
church-services here, but they appear to me less edifying 
than they are with us. You must wait nearly two hours be- 
fore the sermon commences, and these are passed in reading 
select portions of scripture and in rehearsals of the creed. 


At this reading those who are nearest the altar, especially 
the children who receive instruction in religion, repeat the 
last words of each verse. This has naturally something 
very monotonous, and is in the long-run truly wearisome. 
The assembly sings very little, and there is as little organ- 
music; the voices and organ join together for a moment, 
and soon break off again. The sermon is likewise short, 
perhaps of half an hour's duration. The one which we 
heard was especially cold, and not at all what we should 
call instructive. This, as I hear, is the style and manner 
of most of their preachers. Then again the external ar- 
rangements are very annoying. Only a row of benches 
occupying perliaps a fourth part of the church, are open 
to all. The others are locked, but do not all belong to pri- 
vate parties as with us. You see two women standing in 
the middle of the church, at least until the sermon begins, 
with their faces turned towards the door. These conduct 
such as enter and wish to have a seat to a place on the 
reserved benches, and receive, at the close of the service, a 
small gratuity. I do not know whether they retain the 
whole of this to themselves, or give up a portion of it ; but 
it is quite contrary to the spirit of the occasion to see 
these people engaged in a species of worldly business, and 
utterly indiiferent to the greater part of the service. The 
moAdng about with the poor's bag by us is doubtless some- 
thing stiU moi-e annoying ; hub this is now discontinued in 
many churches, at least in Prussia. 

The Quaker-meetings were something quite new to me. 
I had failed to see them when I was here before, but I have 
now been at one. The hall was built some years ago, and 
is very clean and commodious, but without the least show 
or ornament. The light falls from the top, nor has the 
apartment any other means of illumination. The meeting 
was very numerous, the men being on the one side, and the 
women on the other. The Society of Friends, as you cer- 
tainly know, has no preachers. He who feels an impulse 

332 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

and inward call to speak, rises and does so; but in the 
absence of this the assembly remains still as death. The 
speaker addresses the audience either from his place or 
from a part raised higher than the floor, where, however, 
many more than himself can stand, and which does not in 
any way resemble a pulpit. When we were present, the 
meeting was perfectly still for neai'ly the whole two hours 
during which it usually lasts. At length a man and two 
women spoke. They uttered only brief petitions, but to all 
appearance they were framed on the instant, and were ac- 
companied by very short observations. What they did say, 
however, was in itself very good, was introduced by many 
quotations from the scriptures, and expressed with great 
feeling and sincerity. 

There is here a society of ladies for the improvement of 
female convicts, of which you have perhaps heard or read. 
Several of the members of it are highly distinguished. 
There is a Mrs. Fry, a quakeress, the Avife of a very re- 
spectable merchant, who would be called rich with us. We 
saw her in the chief prison of London, where she read a 
portion of scripture to the female convicts, and explained it 
in an admirable and most simple and unpretending manner. 
She conducted us afterwards through the prison, and we 
saw her also at her own house. The Society not only 
attends to the spiritual improvement of the prisoners, but 
supplies them with work and pays them for it ; they are 
divided also into classes according to their behaviour, which 
produces a great emulation among them to conduct them- 
selves properly. You cannot believe how clean, quiet, and 
decent the prisoners were, and yet they belong to the rudest 
and most degraded portion of the London rabble. The 
greater number of them had been condemned to transporta- 
tion to Botany Bay either for life or for several years, while 
two were condemned to death. Still it was nearly certain 
that this sentence would be commuted, as capital punish- 
ment is very rarely inflicted on persons of the female sex. 


At the end of my letter only, dear Charlotte, do I return 
you my heartiest thanks for yours, which I duly received at 
the proper time, and which contains, like all your letters, 
so much that is friendly, good, and affectionate. You may 
quite certainly assure yourself that these sentiments have 
for me, and always wUl have, the highest value 

Farewell, and preserve for me your affectionate regards. 
I remain, with the same well-known unalterable sentiments, 
yours, H. 

334 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 


Salzburg, August 14, 1828. 

I am again in Germany, dear Charlotte, and write you 
from a spot which might well be called the most beautiful 
in the country. I at least know of none which could be 
celebrated as more lovely. The situation is truly splendid, 
— a smiling and fruitful plain, from which there are views 
of majestic mountains on all sides, some of which lie like 
masses of rock hurled in upon each other. These are truly 
astonishing, and I have nowhere else seen anything like 
them. They are not composed of separate portions, and 
stiU less of single peaks, but of high, long, and connected 
masses of rock, with patches of table-land on their surface, 
covered with a fertile soil, and adorned with houses and 

Our journey hither was very prosperous, with the excep- 
tion of the weather, which was by no means favourable. 
But all that is past ; and my only wish now is, that we may 
be favoured with better weather during our stay at the 
baths. In the midst of high mountains, and on so lofty a 
point as that on which the house we occupy stands, a point 
as lofty at least as the peak of the Brocken, a mild sun 
and genial warm air are more than simply agreeable — they 
are necessary to existence. Our passage from London to 
Calais was effected in safety: the sea, however, was high, 
and the heavy rolling of the boat caused much sickness. I 
did not suffer for one moment ; on the contrary, I rather 
enjoyed the viproar. 

I again passed a very pleasant week in Paris. I should 
like very much to spend a whole year there ; and as my 
wife also likes to reside in that city, I shall probably ar- 


range matters so as to effect this object. The road through 
southern Germany and Strasburg is very beautiful and con- 
venientj and if we go forn^ard to Gastein, we may very 
easily return to Paris for a twelvemonth after having taken 
our baths, and revisit Gastein for next year's baths when 
the period of our residence in the French capital is at an 
end. Much intervenes, however, between such plans and 
their execution, and in the present case it is rather an idea 
than a plan. 

In Strasburg one finds an agreeable mixture of French 
and German character. The landscape and the population 
are essentially German. You become aware of this when 
you look across to Alsace from the beautiful mountain- 
ridge of Salbern, which presents one of the loveliest pro- 
spects imaginable. You behold sweetly-grouped hills and 
mountains, finely crowned with bushes and trees, and with 
the ruins of ancient fortresses on their summits — all quite 
in the German style, and totally unknown in France. The 
physiognomies and manners of the people also are on the 
whole marked with the German character, — the Fi'ench 
type being only as it were grafted on the other. I find this 
mixture both interesting and pleasant. Seen from another 
point of view, we might be led to question this taste, and 
to condemn such a blending of races; for the result is the 
loss of everything which represents distinctively either the 
French or German character. This is especially the case 
as regards the language. The people have lost their hold 
of the one tongue, without having quite got possession of 
the other. Alsace, and still more Swabia, are interesting 
countries, both for landscape and people. If the Swabians 
have become a sort of proverb in Germany, that is to be 
ascribed to a species of naivete Avhich characterizes them, 
and which it is easy to turn into a jest by describing it as 
silliness. Nothing more or worse than this is meant by the 
nickname. The Swabians are perhaps the liveliest, most 
easily moved, and most imaginative of all the German tribes. 

336 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

I again spent three entire days in Munich, and found the 
buildings and works of art in considerable progress. The 
King follows out his plans with the most praiseworthy 
steadiness and regularity. The portion already finished is 

of singular beauty I did not find the King 

in Munich, but I expect to see him on my return from 
Gastein. You are quite right to honour him highly, and 
your prayer that he may act suitably to the dignity of that 
monarchy which you have enthroned in your heart is wor- 
thy of you. He is certainly a superior sovereign. I have 
known him from his earliest years, and have always had the 
same opinion of him. He has a large amount of informa- 
tion, and even possesses that kind of knowledge which is 
usually called learning. He is well acquainted with Grreek, 
and this gave power and animation to the noble and high- 
hearted zeal with which he advocated the freedom of the 
Greek nation. He still chei'ishes the same sentiments. 
There is a regular school for young Greeks in Munich, and 
they say that there are some very teachable and inquisitive 
youths among them. The young Botzaris, a son of the hero 
of that name, who so highly distinguished himself in the 
war, has one of the most striking and fascinating counte- 
nances. With this inclination of the King is connected his 
love of Greek art, and the whole together communicates 
something beautiful and interesting to his character. In 
addition to all this, he oversees the business of government 
in its minutest details. 

I am glad that you continue to occupy yourself with 
the contemplation of the starry heavens, and I lament that 
my own eyes are no longer capable of attempting it. I 
resign very unwillingly a source of enjoyment which has so 
often contributed to strengthen and purify me, yet I am 
averse to avail myself of the aid of a glass. 

Farewell, dear Charlotte. — With the liveliest sympathy, 
yours, H. 



A simple, peaceful, contented life, like that ■which you 
enjoy and have shaped to your taste, is certainly the highest 
blessing man can possess. According to my judgment it is 
not only preferable to a life of mere outward variety and 
change, but is at least quite equal to an existence which, 
though spiritual in its enjoyments, yet possesses these for 
only a moment at a time. Quiet and peace communicate 
a deeper power and a freer action to the inward being; 
and, accoi'ding to a conviction which is the fruit of long 
experience, I think it always better when the spiritual 
life within flows outward, than when, reversely, that which 
is without flows inward. It seems, it is true, as if the soul 
could only be enriched and fertihzed from without; but this 
is a mere delusion. What is not already in a man cannot 
come to him from without, and whatever appears to be 
derived by him from some external source is nothing but 
an accidental stimulus, of which the spirit avails itself for 
the development of its own proper resources. For the same 
reason it is just in proportion as a man is rich in spiritual 
possessions, that he is independent of outward circumstances 
for his development. The most insignificant external oc- 
casion ministers to his culture when his mental wealth is 
considerable, whereas the most powerful assistance from 
without will produce little or nothing in the absence of 
inward resources. I have often had occasion to observe 
this in the case of persons possessing a knowledge of the 
arts and sciences. It is less remarkable in men, as they 
very often turn their knowledge only to some ordinary 
purpose, and you do not think of asking in what way the 
sciences have operated upon their minds. But it is different 
VOL. I. G g 

338 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

with women ; and I have met with several among them who 
were really well informed, and even what we call learned, 
but who in their minds and dispositions, and indeed in their 
entire spiritual constitution, were no better educated, or at 
least enriched, than if they had been utterly ignorant of 
what they knew. So true it is that the soul must work 
independently of the external object which it embraces, and 
in some sense be antagonistic to it. 

Baths op Gastein, Sept. 14. 

You are anxious, dear Charlotte, lest it should be so 
cold here among the mountains as to interrupt our use of 
the baths. I almost feared the same thing myself. But 
according to my plan I could not come hither earlier in the 
year. It is, however, very possible that in other years I 
shall of my own accord choose this season for visiting this 
place. The weather has certainly not been constantly fair 
during nearly four weeks which we have spent here ; but 
we have had such a warm air for the last eight days that 
we were compelled to be on our guard in our afternoon and 
evening walks in case of over-heating ourselves. It is only 
during storms that we have much wind in these connected 
and always narrow valleys, and Avith us it is exactly the 
wind which in the plains communicates to the air a cold 
and uncomfortable feeling. The sun, it is true, has influ- 
ence here only for a short time daily; his beams strike on 
the valley itself but for a few hours, although you may see 
them lingering on the slopes and peaks of the mountains 
long after they have disappeared below. But the narrowness 
of the valleys, and the reflected light of the rays when they 
fall on the smooth surfaces of rocks, give a greater power 
to the sun. The weather also, according to e:eneral, and 
even in fact to regular experience, is here more settled in 


autumn than in summer. The harvest commences towards 
the end of August and continues into September, while the 
hay-making is even later. The rural labours which you see 
about you, transport the imagination into an earlier season 
of the year. Another circumstance which still more pre- 
vents you from remarking the lateness of the autumn is, 
that you do not observe any falling of leaves. This certainly 
arises from the absence of large trees with foliage. However 
magnificent the growth of the trees may be, and although 
all the mountains in front are grown with woods to their 
summits, yet they are only varieties of high and umbrageous 
firs and splendid larches. 

We have not missed our bath a single time on account 
of the weather. Partly, it has never b^n particularly cold, 
and partly it would not much matter though it had been 
so. We have baths in the same house in which we dwell, 
at the distance of a few paces from our chambers ; and as 
they may be heated as much as we either need or wish, 
it is not possible to catch cold unless we were bent upon 
it. We have lately had several severe storms during which 
the thermometer stood at 15 or even 18 (34-40 Fahr.) The 
thunder breaks in these narrow craggy valleys with the 
most magnificent and majestic peals, and quite overpowers 
the din of the waterfall. 

The departure of the sunlight from the higher mountains 
in the evening, to which I before alluded, is very fine. The 
sunset is here seen to most advantage in its effect on the 
opposite eastern mountain. The line of light rises gradually 
higher and highei', while the shadows below cover by de- 
grees a larger and larger portion of the slopes, till the top- 
most peak alone is illuminated, and shimmers in the sun's 
rays like a golden knosp. At last the peak also fades away 
into the darkness of night. I do not get out of bed so early 
as to see the corresponding sight at sunrise; and indeed 
it is not nearly so well marked, because the western side of 
the valley, opposite to the rising sun, is not occupied by one 

340 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

single mountain-peak as the eastern side is. But there are 
summits in other valleys of this range, which bear among the 
people the name of sun-glimpse, because they announce the 
rise of the sun. The loftiest cliff of tliis valley is called 
Gamskogel, or, as we should rather say, Gemskegel (Cha- 
mois-peak.) It is of a considerable height, and stands di- 
rectly opposite to my windows, towards the north and east. 
It is much frequented by the visiters at the baths, as it is 
easy of ascent since the Archduke John got a better and 
smoother road made. I have not been up, however, although 
they say that the view from the top is uncommonly fine and 
extensive. From that point the entire chain of the higher 
summits, namely the glacier-mountains, is seen with great 
distinctness. " 

Farewell, and count with confidence on my unalterable 
sympathy. WhoUy yours, H. 



Tegel, October 16, 1828. 

It is about a year, dear Charlotte, since I last wrote you 
from this place. I so much the more rejoice in writing now, 
and thank you most sincerely for the hearty congratulations 
expressed in the dear letter which I found waiting me, with 
respect to my return to my own fair and beautiful country. 
Yes, dear Charlotte, you are right in recognising a pecuhar 
source of joy in this event, and it much enhances my plea- 
sure that you so kindly sympathize with my feelings. 

We reached Berlin on the 4th, and came here in a few 
days after; but we intend to remain only a few weeks. The 
weather is already growing raw, and the month of Novem- 
ber usually drives us into town. However pleasant my 
travels have been, I am very glad to be once more at home, 
and have found Tegel as beautiful as ever. Everything is 
fresh and lively, and I find here, what you observe of your 
own district, that but few leaves have yet fallen, notwith- 
standing the advanced state of the season. The house and 
furniture also look as pleasantly to me as they ever did. 
There is something about home which always addresses us 
with a smiling and friendly air, and touches the heart even 
after having jvist come from direct intercourse with objects 
that are great and beautiful. 

We travelled very slowly, and might easily have arrived 
here by the 25th ; but there was a reason for our loitering 
in Gastein and by the way. My wife's doctor (for I cannot 
call him my own, as I so rarely require his services) is ac- 
companying the Crown-prince on his journey to Italy, and 
we wished to catch him somewhere on the road in order to 
consult him. We gained our object by taking the circuitous 


342 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

route of Bamberg, where we met him. We afterwards made 
a visit of two days in the country. The count Giech, whose 
wife is a daughter of the minister Stein, besides several 
others of our acquaintances, live in Thurnau, and we passed 
some time there very pleasantly. The castle is very old, 
some parts of it perhaps have seen a thousand years ; but it 
would strike the eye more finely if the small town of Thur- 
nau did not lie so close to it. Some of the houses come 
into close contact with the castle, and to reach the garden 
you must go through the street. The neighbourhood of 
Thurnau, however, is very pretty; being rich in hills and 
woods, and various in its scenery, with a fruitful soil. The 
verdant shades with the dark seriousness of the pine-forests, 
are very delightful. 

* * * * 

I am very glad that the study of the stars continues to 
supply you with a healthful and exhilarating occupation, — 
and this all the more, as you say that you are often some- 
thing worse than dull in spirits. You will soon be able to 
acquaint yourself with the sky, as you enjoy such a wide and 
beautiful horizon on all sides, and advance with your obser- 
vations. I may here give you an advice which will certainly 
assist you to a knowledge of the stars. You must view the 
heavens according to a certain method, and regard them 
under general divisions. In the first place, you must seek 
to acquire an accurate acquaintance with those stars which 
never set to us, and only disappear in the effulgence of the 
solar light. They are to be found, as you know, only in 
the north, and they circulate round the pole-star. They 
are easily recognised, as you can see them every clear even- 
ing. In the next place, you must trace the twelve starry 
groups of the zodiac. You never see more than six of 
them at a time ; but if you remain up a whole night, some 
will of course be seen to set and others to rise. Still there 
are always some which are hidden from view by the day- 
light. As soon as you succeed in knowing one group 


well, the others will present no difficulty, as they encircle 
the heavens like a great girdle. No one, therefore, who 
thoroughly knows the order in which they follow each 
other, can miss the direction in which they are to be sought. 
The planets move in the same zone, and may greatly mis- 
lead those who are unskilled in the matter. But you can soon 
learn to distinguish them. If you once properly know the 
northern constellations, which never set, and the signs of 
the zodiac, you can be at no loss for the other groups. 

You say very truly that the observation of the starry 
heavens withdraws our thoughts from the earth, and fills, 
comforts, and elevates the soul with higher hopes, longings, 
and anticipations. It certainly does so in the highest degree. 
When we view and reflect upon this countless multitude of 
stars, we are filled with a thought of terror at such a crowd 
circlino; in creation. Man feels himself in such circumstances 
as if he were overborne by the vastness of the idea. But 
the order and harmony with which all their movements are 
and ever will be conducted, suggest the beneficent and 
consolatory thought of the existence of a higher power and 
of a spiritual ruler, which again soothes us and removes 
the weight of anxiety from our minds. With unalterable 
sympathy, yours, H. 



Berlin, Nov. 16, 1828. 

You also complain, dear Charlotte, that it often happens 
as if you could not write one word — as if eyes, hand, and 

pen were in league against you Your last 

letter was certainly less prettily written than usual. The 
handwriting was not illegible, but one could remark the 
trouble it had cost you. 

But I saw with greater regret that you were very dull 
and desponding. In such a frame of mind, dear friend, we 
must always separate external causes from the bias of the 
soul to cheerfulness and peace on the one hand, or to anxiety 
and trouble on the other. The spiritual element is always 
the most important. Real, even desolating misfortune, is 
supported with ease or with difficulty according as the soul 
is filled with bright or with gloomy thoughts. I think that 
with you, at present, the darker aspect of things predomi- 
nates, and therefore I beseech you to struggle against its 
influence. It is to your low spirits that I ascribe your 
belief that you will soon die, without your being really un- 
well. You say, it is true — and doubtless with perfect sin- 
cerity — that the idea of death is to you a joyful and most 
acceptable thought ; and nobody can understand your feeling 
better than myself. I have never had the slightest fear of 
death ; at any moment I could welcome it. I see in it what 
it is, the natural development of life — one of those epochs 
in which, according to certain unalterable conditions, the 
human being, purified and already ennobled, rises into more 
satisfying and elevated states of existence. What is human 
consists in the gradual development of life, and what all 

« LETTER XC. 34-5 

men share with each other should inspire no wise man with 
terror. He must rather bless and welcome the event as a 
means of gratifying his love of knowledge ; and, so long as 
consciousness remains, he ought to watch the moment of 
transit — to try how long he can retain the fleeting Pre- 
sent. I hear it sometimes said that death must certainly 
be accompanied with a beneficent and delightful feehng; 
and this appears to me credible, even in those cases when 
the opposite seems to take place. Pain usually relaxes, all 
disquiet lays itself to rest, and almost always the newly dead, 
before the features have become disfigured and distorted, 
have an expression of peacefulness and calmness, often even 
of sublimity and heightened intelligence. In every case, 
however, it must be considered a gloomy frame of mind, 
which, without reason, leads one to believe himself to be 
near death. Death is always like a departure out of one's 
well-known country, and an entrance into a new and strange 
territory. In your case, I think, unpleasant external cir- 
cumstances touch too closely on your feelings. Seek then 
for the cure, dear Charlotte, where you have so often found 
it, — in your own spirit, in that confidence which you cherish 
in God, and which will never abandon you. It will deliver 
you anew, and comfort and help will arise to you, even 
when you do not expect them. Always open to me your 
broken and disconsolate heart, and you will ever find in 
me that sympathy which cannot possibly change. — Wholly 
yours, H. 

December 16, 1828. 

It will give me great pleasure to receive a continuation 
of the narrative of your life. You know that I take a warm 
and deep interest in your past history, and that all really 
characteristic description has for me a great charm. I am 
well aware, however, that to prepare such a portrait is a 

346 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

matter of great difficulty, and the repugnance to give it out 
of one's own hand by no means easily overcome. I do not, 
however, refer to such disclosures as, from a fear of being 
unfavourably judged on their account, one would naturally 
be chary of making. No : there are things of a character 
quite the opposite of this, and the revelation of which 
would rather procure praise than condemnation, but which 
a delicate feeling would forbid to pass the lips, and would 
utterly refuse to commit to writing, or at least would con- 
sent to either with great difficulty. Things happen also 
which represent other people in a disadvantageous light, 
and which we should unwillingly disclose, however justly 
exposure might be merited. So soon, however, as in writing 
our biography we diverge from the principle of copying 
simply and exclusively from the tablets of the memory, and 
of renouncing the right to judge what may be uttered and 
what must be concealed or passed over, the charm of a 
description from nature vanishes. It is not a simple, nor a 
circumstantial, nor withal a true history. It is not a pic- 
ture of the past, but a narrative drawn from the point of 
view belonging to a later period of life. Everybody knows, 
of course, that a story loses nothing of moral or spiritual 
truth by a circumstance here and there being related only 
in a partial or general manner, if the true and genuine effect 
of the matter on the feeling and disposition is described. 
When one, for example, has uttered some offensive word, it 
is not necessary that the word itself be repeated : we should 
rather pass it over if its impression on the person who was 
obliged to hear it be adequately i-epresented. What I object 
to, however, is a narrative which is essentially false — ^which 
omits the whole scene in which such a Avord may have 
occurred, because it may be impossible to retain the word 
itself. I write to you at length on this subject, because I 
wish to express myself without any reserve on the conti- 
nuation of your personal narrative. I cannot advise you 
to carry it further than to the point where you are sure 


that you can write down everything which remains in your 
memory without the slightest or minutest act of suppression. 
This was not only possible in that part which you have 
already sent me, but must have been easy to one of your 
character; and I am persuaded that you have sincerely dealt 
with it in the manner I have now referred to. You had it 
in your power to narrate it without offending either your 
own or another's feelings. It is possible that this may be 
the case with what remains to be written ; but I can easily 
imagine that it may be quite the reverse. For I should 
consider it perfectly natural for you to seek escape from the 
pains of memory and from the agony of tearing open afresh 
the scars of your wounds; while to myself the thought of 
causing such an offering to be made to my wishes would 
rob me of all that joy which the reception of each part of 
your life has before occasioned me. When the question is 
about biography, I have only one idea of it, — that of histo- 
rical truth, — from which, in the great and sincere interest 
which I take in you, I cannot, however willing I might be, 
depart. I consider it, however, a good and wholesome ex- 
ercise to review one's life in writing; and any delicacy of 
feeling which would lead to suppressions I hold to be a 
false delicacy, although very natural, and therefore par- 
donable. Nevertheless I mistrust my own feelings in this 
matter, for I have passed a very prosperous life in a situa- 
tion entirely congenial to my tastes and wishes. I might 
therefore easily measure by a wrong standard others who 
have been in circumstances less favourable than my own. 
I repeat then once more, dear Charlotte, what I have often 
said, — follow your own heart: if you will not suffer by 
the task, always calculate with confidence on the great 
pleasure which you Avill thereby communicate to me, but, 
let me add, only under the condition that you are able to 
write it without suppressing the very smallest matter. You 
might speak to me, to use a common phrase, as to the grave. 
The parts of your life already in my possession lie carefully 

348 w. VON Humboldt's letters. 

secured in my desk, and at my death they must be thrown 
into the fire uni-ead. In my situation I have opportunities 
for securing this which by no accident whatever could be 
rendered unavailing. I consider it my duty to set your 
mind at rest on this point, — it is a duty of gratitude for 
tlie trustful, sincere, and disinterested confidence which for 
so many years you have manifested towards me. 

The year is on the eve of departure, and as I willingly 
revert to the many delightful reminiscences of joy which it 
bestowed on me, among which I reckon our meeting again, 
I cannot but glance forward with very gloomy anticipations 
to what the coming year may bring, — and I recognise with 
a touch of sadness that your feeling resembles my own. 
May Providence avert from you, good Charlotte, new trials ! 
This is my hearty prayer. 

Since our return my wife has been visited with a serious 
accumulation of maladies; — there is at least no period of 
recovery which can be looked forward to with any degree 
of probability. This greatly disturbs my prospects for the 

I beg you to write me on the 30th. — Farewell, and count 
always on my known sentiments of affection and lively 
sympathy for you. — Wholly yours, H.